What are Plea Negotiations?

In Vermont criminal law plea negotiations are common. Plea negotiations are the offer and counteroffers made back and forth between the criminal defendant and the prosecutor throughout the criminal process. These offers are attempts to resolve the case without a jury trial.

Every defendant in Vermont has the right to a trial by jury. Jury trials are time consuming and prosecutors often want to avoid them. Defendants may not want to risk being found guilty of the most serious offenses they are charged with by a jury if there is something else they can resolve their case for.

Prosecutors may offer a “plea deal” at any stage of the criminal proceedings. Sometimes, prosecutors will offer an initial plea deal at the arraignment. Typically, arraignment offers are not the best ones that a defendant will get and it is important to fully investigate the case and assess any suppression or other potential evidentiary issues before agreeing to a plea deal. Like all principles in law, there are exceptions to this general rule.

With the guidance of defense counsel the defendant may wish to give a counter offer to resolve his case back to the prosecutor. The prosecutor can accept or offer another counter offer. There are no limits to the number of offers and counter offers that can occur.

There are many reasons that a plea agreement or plea bargain may be struck. Some common reasons that prosecutors are willing to reduce the punishment or the charge faced by a defendant are: the evidence against the defendant is weak or was illegally obtained (and thus subject to suppression); the defendant has little to no criminal history outside of the charged offense; the severity of the offense; the defendant’s willingness to take responsibility and undertake remedial action (such as engaging in counseling or participating in treatment for an alcohol or drug related offense); lack of witness participation or availability; the need for expert testimony for a jury trial; and, the general likelihood (in the prosecutor’s mind) that he will prevail at a jury trial.

Plea negotiations are, in my opinion, an art form. It requires an experienced defense attorney who can understand and expect the likely rulings in the case, who can engage in open communication with the defendant about the strengths and weaknesses of the case, and who can meaningfully engage the prosecutor to obtain a suitable resolution for the client. These skills and relationships take time to build. When choosing a criminal defense attorney it is important to consider her ties and experience in the Vermont criminal law community, her reputation and if you feel you can communicate openly and honestly with her about your case. A criminal defense attorney should never push a client into a plea deal and it is also important that the defense attorney that you choose has a strong trial background should you choose to take your case to a jury.

At Burke Law our attorneys have statewide experience in all Vermont counties, working relationships with all State’s Attorneys, a history of successful plea negotiations and proven jury trial wins. Contact us for a free case consultation today.

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