Sentencing And Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining is a negotiation between the prosecutor and defense counsel aimed at resolving a case without going to trial.
Sometimes the negotiations will lead to an agreement between the prosecutor and defense (with approval of the defendant) to drop certain charges, receive a particular sentence or both, in exchange for the defendant's plea of guilty or nolo contendre (no contest). This is called a Negotiated plea because the defendant knows what benefit s/he will receive if s/he pleads.
On the other hand, in a Blind plea a Defendant pleads without a promise from the prosecutor or judge.
There are many constitutional, due process requirements of plea bargaining and guilty pleas.
The US Supreme Court case Boykin v Alabama set the standard that every court must follow in order to ensure that the constitutional requirements are followed:
- A defendant must be advised of consequences of pleading guilty.
- The judge must make sure that the defendant understands that s/he is giving up certain constitutional rights when pleading guilty.
- The defendant must admit to the critical elements of offense
- The court must make sure that the plea is voluntary and intelligent (i.e the defendant was not threatened or coerced into pleading guilty and s/he knows the consequences.)
These due process requirements are codified in Michigan statutes and court rules:
An Understanding Plea:
The judge tells the defendant the nature of the charges / offense being pled
The Judge advises of the consequences of plea (maximum sentence)
The judge tells the defendant about the rights waived by entering a plea (jury or bench trial, presumption of innocence, state prove beyond a reasonable doubt, remain silent, silence not used against you, confront, attorney for trial, witnesses brought in for you, appeal as of right)
The judge also asks the defendant if any other promises were made that convinced him or her to plead guilty. The judge also wants to know if the defendant was threatened in any way in order to plead guilty. Once the complete plea bargain is disclosed in open court, the judge will tell the defendant that he or she cannot later claim undisclosed promises or threats caused defendant to plea
A Voluntary Plea:
Court asks the prosecutor and defense attorney if there is a plea agreement If there is an agreement what are its terms?
The court can accept or reject the agreement or take it under advisement If no sentence agreement, court must make it clear to the defendant the court is not bound to follow any particular recommendation from the attorneys.
If there is a sentence agreement the court must tell the defendant that if it does not follow the sentence agreement, the defendant can withdraw his plea.
The Plea is Accurate
The defendant must tell the judge what happened that makes the defendant believe he or she is guilty of the crime. (For example, if the crime is retail fraud, the defendant would say, "While Fred's Music was open for business I went into the store and took 5 CD's without paying for them." That is the factual basis of the offense.)
Right to plead guilty
There is no constitutional right that plea of guilty must be accepted by the court.
Types of pleas
No contest or nolo contendre plea is one in which the defendant does not fight the charge and does not say anything against him/herself. Typically a person pleads no contest in order to avoid civil liability or due to the fact that s/he cannot remember what happened. After pleading no contest, a defendant is treated in the same way as though s/he pled guilty.
A plea of guilty but mentally ill means that the defendant committed the offense, but his/her mental illness will be a factor in the sentence.
A plea under advisement and a plea with a deferred sentence both have the same result: After pleading guilty, the defendant is placed on probation. If the defendant does well on probation, the case is dismissed. (See, also Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, MCL 333.7411.)