If you are currently facing criminal charges in California you may eventually be offered a plea agreement in your case. A plea agreement resolves the case without the need to go to trial. Defendants frequently sign plea agreements without really understanding what they are signing and/or the ramifications of accepting the agreement. Only an experienced California criminal defense attorney can offer you individualized advice about your specific case; however, a better understanding of plea agreements in general may be beneficial.
If you are charged with a criminal offense, there are three ways in which those charged can be resolved – dismissal, trial, or plea agreement. In most cases, the prosecuting attorney will eventually offer you a plea agreement to resolve the case. The terms of the plea agreement will depend on the facts of the case as well as your own criminal history, or lack thereof. Most of the time, the prosecutor will negotiate the terms of a plea agreement with your attorney, meaning that the first offer is not always the best offer.
When you accept a plea agreement you are admitting guilt. Although the terms of the agreement may include dismissing some charges, you will have to admit your guilt in at least one of the charges in order to accept the agreement. When you go to court, the judge will usually ask you if you understand the terms of the agreement and if you are, indeed, guilty of the charge included in the agreement. Defendants often agree to a plea agreement simply because they don’t want to risk a trial but then don’t want to admit guilt when the agreement is discussed in court. Make sure you are prepared to admit guilt if you accept a plea agreement.
Because you are admitting guilt, a plea agreement means you will have a criminal conviction on your permanent record. Make sure you understand the consequences of that conviction. A conviction could impact future employment, your right to own a firearm, your immigration status, or even your visitation rights with minor children.
Finally, be sure you understand the specific terms of the agreement. For example, the agreement may call for you to get probation instead of a jail sentence; however, that likely means you are actually being sentenced to jail but the sentence is being suspended. This will become very important if you violate your probation so be sure you understand everything before agreeing to the deal.
Don’t ever try to negotiate your own plea agreement and never sign one without the assistance and advice of an experienced California criminal defense attorney.
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