Plea Agreements in Florida
A plea agreement is a contract between the prosecutor representing the State of Florida and the defendant. A plea agreement is sometimes called a “plea bargain.”
Of course, the best result comes when:
- the prosecutor does not file any charges or drops the charges after they are filed; or
- the judge dismisses the charges;
- the defendant goes to trial and is exonerated with a “not guilty” verdict after a bench or jury trial.
At some point, the criminal defense attorney might talk with their client about making a plea offer for the prosecutor to consider.
If the criminal defense attorney does not make an offer, the prosecutor might offer a plea agreement. Then the defendant can make a counteroffer.
The prosecutor and criminal defense attorney often go back and forth many times before the final terms of the plea agreement are reached.
The plea agreement might include the following details:
- whether charges might be dropped or dismissed;
- as to any charge for which the plea is being entered, whether the court will adjudicate the person guilty or withhold adjudication;
- whether jail or probation will be imposed;
- whether a particular sentence will be recommended to the court;
- whether fines, fees, and costs will be made part of the recommended sentence;
- whether the defendant must complete any classes or counseling or perform community service hours.
Even if the criminal defense attorney and prosecutor agree on a plea agreement, the judge does not have to accept the “plea bargain.”
The court will also allow the alleged victim to object to any negotiated plea.
As a practical matter, the judge will often accept the negotiated plea. If the court does not accept the negotiated plea, the accused can withdraw the plea and proceed with further proceedings.
Attorney for Plea Agreements in Tampa, FL
Your attorney has two jobs. One is to negotiate the best possible plea deal.
The second job is to prepare the case for trial if the pre-trial negotiations are unacceptable.
These two things go together because the more your attorney prepares the case for trial, the more willing the prosecutor becomes to negotiate a better plea deal.
Read more about whether an attorney can enter a plea in absentia on your behalf to resolve your case without needing you to return to court.
Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your criminal case.
Plea Agreements Are Common
Plea agreements are more common than trials. Most criminal cases are disposed of by pleas arrived at by negotiations between the prosecutor and defense counsel.
The committee notes of Rule 3.171, Fla.R.Crim.P., recognize the prevalence of plea agreements in Florida.
For example, Rule 3.171(a), Fla.R.Crim.P., explains that the prosecuting attorney and the criminal defense attorney are encouraged to discuss and agree on pleas that a defendant may enter.
The court determines the proper sentence even when the prosecutor and the criminal defense attorney submit a plea agreement to the court. The court can accept or reject the plea agreement.
Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.192 provides:
“Nothing in this rule precludes the trial court from exercising its inherent authority to reconsider a ruling while the court has jurisdiction of the case.”
A plea in absentia allows the defendant to enter a plea without the need to personally appear in court when the criminal defense attorney can enter the plea and present the proper absentia form on their behalf.
Factors in Reaching a Plea Agreement
Even the Attorney General’s Office recognizes that, in many cases, it is in the best interest of all parties to resolve the case without a trial.
For the prosecutor, many factors enter into the decision to reach a plea agreement, including:
- the strength of the evidence;
- the wishes of the victim and allowing the victim to avoid the stress of a trial;
- whether evidence has become stale or defective;
- whether sufficient evidence supports the charges;
- protection of the public;
- the attitude of the defendant;
- the need to treat this defendant similarly to other defendants who have committed the same crimes;
- the state sentencing guidelines; and
- the expense of taking the case to trial.
The State will also consider such factors. However, the State will not enter into a plea agreement with the defendant without consulting the victim first.
At the sentencing hearing, the victim will be given the opportunity to explain to the court how the defendant’s crime affected the victim personally and financially.
The victim’s testimony will assist the court in entering an appropriate sentence.
In many cases, the prosecutor allows the defendant to “plea bargain” to a lesser charge or sentence than Florida law requires.
Prosecutors also recognize that the plea bargain allows the victim or alleged victim to avoid the stress and aggravation of a trial.
What is Plea Bargaining in Florida?
“Plea bargaining” means contract negotiation within the criminal justice system to resolve cases.
Plea bargaining is conducted between the interested parties, including the defendant, the defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the victim.
In some cases, the judge might also play some role in plea bargaining.
Plea bargaining becomes more complicated when the alleged victim hires an attorney to represent their interests.
Under Florida’s new Marcy’s Law provisions found at Fla. Const. Art I. § 16(b), the victim’s attorney can become actively involved.
Letting the Defendant Plea Bargain the Charges – Visit the website of Florida’s Office of the Attorney General to learn more about what the alleged victim is told about whether the State will let the defendant “plea bargain” his/her way out of the charges.
This article was last updated on Monday, April 24, 2023.