Plea Bargain FAQs

A plea bargain is an agreement with the State in which the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for certain benefits. Over 95% of criminal cases are resolved with a plea bargain. Here are the key things to know about plea bargains:

When must a plea be entered?
In Florida, a defendant must enter a plea of not guilty, guilty, or no contest at their arraignment. An arraignment is generally a defendant’s second appearance before a judge and occurs within 30 days after the initial appearance where a bail determination is made.

Can a plea be changed?
A guilty plea can only be withdrawn in rare circumstances. Coercion, which is the ineffective assistance of counsel, and false promises are the most common legal justifications that allow a guilty plea to be changed. However, in order to plead guilty, a defendant must typically make a lengthy dialogue with the court that they are knowingly and voluntarily making the plea, that they have had a chance to consult with their attorney, and that their decision is not based on anything other than what is included in this dialogue.

A not guilty plea can be withdrawn up until the jury enters a verdict. However, what it can be changed to is up to the discretion of the judge. If a plea bargain has been offered, the defendant can plead guilty based on that agreement. If no offer has been made, the defendant must plead guilty to each charge and receives no promise of a set sentence.

Who decides what plea to enter?
The defendant has the absolute right to decide whether they will plead guilty. The defense attorney may strongly advise the defendant what decision to make, but cannot overrule their client’s final decision.

When can a plea bargain be made?
As a legal matter, a plea bargain can be made at any time until the jury returns a verdict. Plea discussions generally occur between the arraignment, when the attorneys first have a chance to review the case file, and pretrial hearings, when the parties are committed to going to trial. In rare cases involving long-term investigations, an agreement may be reached before a defendant is even arrested.

In many cases, the State may set guidelines as to when certain types of offers can be made. Common policies including setting a specific point beyond which the charges cannot be reduced, or setting a deadline after which negotiations will not continue.

What are the benefits of entering into a plea bargain?
A plea bargain involves the defendant giving up substantial rights and also saves the State the time and expense of going to trial. In return for this, typical offers include lesser charges, reduced sentences, or even the dismissal of criminal charges. In addition, the defendant receives a certain outcome and avoids having the case hanging over their head for months or even years.

What rights are given up when entering into a plea bargain?
A plea bargain typically enters a plea of guilty. By pleading guilty, a defendant gives up their right to have a trial by jury, their right to cross examine witnesses against them, and their right to present evidence in their favor. In addition, defendants are often now required to waive their right to appeal, including their right to challenge the validity of the plea bargain.

Does a defendant have a right to a plea bargain?
A plea bargain requires the consent of both the defendant and the State. The State is not obligated to offer a plea bargain and often will not if the charges are severe or if the defendant has multiple prior convictions. In addition, the judge has the discretion to reject any agreement.
For any additional questions, contact James Davis Defense at 904-358-0420.

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