What is a Plea Agreement and
is it the Right
Option for Me?
criminal procedure, a plea agreement is a contract between the State and the
defendant to resolve a given set of criminal charges without having a trial. When a defendant elects to enter into a plea
agreement, that defendant chooses to give up certain rights that he or she
would have if the case went to trial. In
most, but not all circumstances, the defendant receives some benefit from the state’s
attorney in exchange for giving up these rights. When a plea agreement is entered into, the defendant
is, in most cases, admitting guilt and relieving the state of its burden of proof.
HOW PLEA AGREEMENTS WORK
There are different
ways in which a plea agreement may proceed.
There are six basic types of plea agreements that are set out in the
Maryland Rules of Procedure.
That the State’s Attorney will amend the charging document to
charge a specified offense, add a specified offense, or will file a new charging
For instance, if the defendant is charged with a first degree
assault, a felony which carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years, the
state could, as part of a plea agreement, amend the charge to a second degree
assault. A second degree assault is a
misdemeanor which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine up to
$2,500. If the defendant takes the plea,
he can guarantee that his sentence will be capped at 10 years, no matter how
bad the judge thinks the case is.
The State’s Attorney will enter a nolle prosequi or make a
motion that charges be placed on the stet docket.
A nolle prosequi is simply a fancy Latin term of the dismissing
of charges. When the state enters
charges as nolle prosequi, the case is finished and the defendant is free. Because no jeopardy attaches, the state is
free to refile new charges. If a case is
entered as nolle prosequi based on a plea agreement, the state will only
recharge the defendant according to the terms of the agreement.
The stet docket is the court’s inactive docket. It’s where criminal cases go to die. It is essentially a postponement of the case,
but the court does not set a new trial date.
Many times the state will agree to put cases on the stet docket in
exchange for some action by the defendant, such as attending counseling or
making restitution. If the defendant
fails to abide by the agreement, the state can bring the charges back to life.
The State’s Attorney will agree to an entry of judgment by
acquittal on certain charges.
could agree to the entry of a judgment of acquittal on one charge in exchange
for a plea or conviction on a different charge.
That the State will not charge the defendant with the commission
of some other offense.
state has information that a defendant may have committed a crime that is not
being charged at that time. The state
may agree not to prosecute the defendant for certain conduct in exchange for a
plea to other charges.
That the State’s Attorney will recommend, not oppose, or make no
comment to the court with respect to a particular disposition or other judicial
Many times the defendant will
enter into an agreement that in exchange for a plea, the state will not oppose
a Probation Before Judgment (PBJ). A PBJ
is a procedural tool that allows a defendant to avoid a criminal conviction and
keep a clean record.
That the parties will submit a plea agreement proposing a
particular sentence, disposition, or other judicial action to a judge for
The judge is then free to
accept or reject the plea agreement. If
the judge accepts the plea, the judge may approve the agreement or may defer
its decision as to the approval or rejection until after a pre-sentence investigation
There are additional ways in
which a plea agreement may be reached, specific to the particular type of case
at issue. For instance, some offenses
carry enhanced penalties for subsequent offenders or based on some other factor. A plea may be entered whereby the defendant
is to be sentenced as a first-time offender, even though he or she would
normally qualify as a subsequent offender.
Whether a plea agreement is the
best option for any particular case requires a full evaluation of the evidence
that the state can present at trial as well as any defenses that are available. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney,
who has reviewed the evidence in your case and is familiar with the particular
crimes with which you have been charged can help you accurately assess whether
a plea agreement is in your best interest.
If you have a pending criminal
case, you may contact our office for a free in-person consultation. At this consultation, we can help you evaluate
any plea offer that has or might be made in your case, as well as possible
defenses. While we may not be able to
tell you what is the best option for you, without further investigation,
research and work on your case, we can give you a general idea of what might
happen with your case. We never charge
for criminal defense consultations.
The information contained on this page is provided as general
information and does not constitute legal advice. The experienced attorneys at Baldwin, Briscoe
& Steinmetz, P.C. can assist you if you if you are facing criminal charges. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation,
in-office-consultation for any criminal defense case. The law offices of Baldwin, Briscoe &
Steinmetz, P.C. handle criminal cases in Maryland.
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