Author: Mariya Melkonyan | Published: May 11, 2023 | Category: California

California Laws on Felony Plea Bargaining and What You Need To Know

A felony plea bargain is an agreement that allows you to plead guilty in exchange for a less severe charge or a lighter sentence. When facing criminal charges in California, you can either take a plea bargain or go to trial. Before making a decision on plea bargaining, make sure you consult with your criminal defense lawyer.

Table Of Contents

Table of Contents
    1. Charge Bargain
      Charge bargaining is where you agree to plead guilty to a lesser offense or reduced charge in exchange for a lower sentence. For example, if you’re charged with DUI, you might plead guilty to a reckless driving charge. In return, the state would agree to drop the DUI charge.
    2. Sentence Bargain
      If you plead guilty or no contest to a charge, the prosecutor will recommend a shorter sentence for you. For instance, the prosecutor might promise not to recommend jail time to the judge if you plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
    3. Count Bargain
      In this case, you plead guilty to one of several charges against you. In exchange, the state drops the remaining charges. For instance, if you face charges for both robbery and assault, you may agree to plead guilty to assault only. In return, the state will dismiss the robbery charge.

    Criminal defense attorney, Mariya Melkonyan, can advise you on the pros and cons of accepting a felony plea bargain deal in California.

    Mariya has vast experience as a criminal defense attorney in the greater southern California area, working with clients who have been charged with DUIs and other criminal charges. She’s helped her clients negotiate beneficial plea deals that reduced legal consequences for them.

    Guilty vs. No Contest Pleas

    When you plead to a criminal charge, you can enter a guilty or a no contest plea. However, each plea carries different implications for your case.

    Guilty Plea

    If you plead guilty in California, you’re admitting that you committed the crime that you’ve been charged with. The judge will need to hear your plea in court. You’ll be required to testify under oath that you understand the charges and are guilty of committing the offense.

    The judge will ask you questions about the consequences of pleading guilty, such as:

    • Do you know what the charge or charges are?
    • Do you know what pleading guilty means?
    • Do you know the consequences of pleading guilty?
    • Do you know the rights you’re giving up?

    Your case will then move to the sentencing phase, without a jury trial.

    No Contest Plea

    Pleading no contest means you agree with the charges or don’t contest them. According to the California Penal Code 1016 PC, a no contest plea is called “nolo contendere.”

    When you enter a no contest plea for a felony charge, the court follows the same rules as if you had pleaded guilty. Any legal proceeding, including civil proceedings, can use a no contest plea as an admission of guilt.

    However, a no contest plea may not be used against you in a civil case if you’re charged with a misdemeanor.

    Make sure to have an experienced criminal defense firm on your side. It’s the best way to negotiate a reduced sentence for your charges.

    The Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

    The consequences of a criminal conviction include:

    • Parole and postrelease community supervision after release from state prison
    • Additional punishment for violating a current grant, parole, mandatory supervision, or probation
    • A mandatory double prison sentence, or at least 25 years to life, in your future felony convictions, depending on your strike-count.
    • Limited work-time credit of 15% for a violent felony conviction, 20% for a prior strike conviction, and no work-time credits for a murder or a third felony conviction of certain offenses
    • Increased penalties for future felony convictions after a sexual violence conviction
    • Driver’s license and vehicle forfeiture as ordered by the court or the California Department of Motor Vehicles

    By signing a plea form, you’re forfeiting certain rights, including:

    • The right to legal representation
    • The right to a preliminary hearing
    • Constitutional rights to have a jury trial, cross-examine witnesses, remain silent, and produce a defense, including the right to testify on your behalf

    Plea Bargaining Pros and Cons in Criminal Cases

    Plea bargaining can minimize your charges and allow you to save on legal expenses. But it can also result in a longer prison sentence and heavier fines. That’s why it’s so important to consult an experienced attorney.

    Let’s take a look at the plea bargaining pros and cons in more detail.

    Pro: Reduced Charges and Sentencing

    Accepting a plea deal can result in a reduced charge and sentence.
    For instance, your lawyer could negotiate a reckless driving charge, which carries a sentence of 90 days in county prison.

    In contrast, a first-time DUI violation is punished with six months in county jail — and a second DUI means facing county jail time for a full year.

    Pro: Save Time and Money

    Trials can be time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. Preparing for and conducting a trial requires substantial attorney fees and potential expert witness fees.

    By accepting a plea agreement, you can avoid these expenses and the anxiety that comes with a trial.

    Con: Allows Cases With Insufficient Evidence to Move Forward

    A prosecutor can seek a plea bargain even when they lack evidence to prove that you’re guilty.
    California allows plea bargaining in DUI offenses, firearm-related felonies, violent sex crimes, and other serious felonies when:

    • There’s inadequate evidence
    • They lack witnesses
    • A reduction or dismissal wouldn’t result in a severe sentence

    Con: Face Legal, Life-Changing Consequences

    By plea bargaining, you may be forfeiting your civil rights and end up facing severe, life-changing consequences, such as:

    • Parole
    • Post-release community supervision
    • Limited work-time credit
    • Driver’s license and vehicle forfeiture

    Plea bargaining can also affect your employment opportunities. Your professional license may be denied, suspended, or revoked — but only if the crime is closely related to your profession.

    It might not be possible to renew your registered nurse license, for example.

    Plea Bargain or Go to Trial: What Should You Do?

    If you’re facing criminal charges, you may be wondering whether to accept a plea bargain or go to trial.
    A plea bargain means you plead guilty to a lesser charge or receive a lighter sentence in exchange for avoiding a trial.

    While plea bargains can be a good option, they also come with risks, such as giving up your right to a fair trial and potentially facing harsher penalties if you violate the terms of your plea agreement.

    Despite being time-consuming and costly, going to court allows you to exercise your constitutional right to a fair trial and can result in a not guilty verdict if the prosecution doesn’t meet their burden of proof. The decision to accept a plea bargain or go to trial should be made with the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

    The Plea Bargain Negotiation Process

    If you decide to take a plea deal, the prosecution and your attorney will engage in negotiations to reach mutually agreeable plea terms.

    Generally, the process involves the following steps:

    1. Initial Plea Offer
      Your defense attorney will make an initial plea offer to the prosecutor, outlining the proposed plea and any conditions or concessions that you’re willing to make.
    2. Prosecutorial Review
      The prosecutor will review the offer and decide whether to accept, reject, or make a counteroffer.
    3. Plea Negotiations
      Negotiations continue until a mutually acceptable agreement is reached, or until one party decides to terminate the process.
      Negotiations may include your lawyer seeking a plea in exchange for a reduced charge or sentence. The prosecution may seek to secure a guilty plea for the original charge and a full prison sentence.
    4. Final Judgment
      Your judge will review the plea agreement and make the final decision on whether or not they accept the plea bargain. Judges have full discretion and can abide by the plea deal agreed upon by both parties, change the terms, or reject it and impose their own sentence.

    The length of the bargaining process varies depending on the complexity of the negotiation between the prosecution and your attorney. Most plea agreements take several months from the charge date to approval and sentencing.

    After you accept a plea deal, you must attend a sentencing hearing where the judge formally accepts it and imposes your sentence. If you fail to comply with the terms of the plea agreement, the judge may give you a harsher sentence or revoke the plea deal.

    Plea-Bargaining in Capital Murder Cases

    Plea bargaining in capital murder cases in California is a complex issue. Prosecutors are often reluctant to offer plea deals in these cases because of the severity of the crime and the potential for public backlash.
    Capital murder cases involve a defendant who is accused of intentionally killing another person. If convicted, they may face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

    Plea bargaining is still a possibility in some capital murder cases. In these situations, the prosecution may be willing to offer a plea deal that results in a lesser charge, such as second-degree murder or manslaughter, or a reduced sentence for pleading guilty.

    The option of a plea deal in capital murder cases depends on the specific circumstances of the case and the strength of the evidence. However, one study found that defendants charged with murder were 25% more likely to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence in states like California, where the death penalty is legal.

    Working with a skilled criminal defense attorney who will fight for your rights is essential. Make sure to have the proper representation for your case right from the start. Mariya Melkonyan has the experience necessary to navigate criminal cases and provide clients with the best possible defense.

    Prior Convictions and Weapons Involvement

    Here are some scenarios including plea bargain examples for each. Prior convictions and weapons involvement can impact plea bargaining in a criminal case. Prosecutors may be less willing to offer favorable plea deals to defendants with a history of prior convictions or who are accused of crimes involving weapons.

    Prior Convictions

    In California, your prior criminal history can be used to enhance penalties for your current charges, especially for similar offenses.

    In plea bargaining, prosecutors may be less willing to offer reduced charges or lighter sentences if you have a history of prior convictions.

    Plea bargain example involving a prior DUI conviction:

    Let’s say you were convicted of two previous misdemeanor DUIs and are facing another DUI that resulted in injury to another person. The prosecutor may refuse to offer you a plea deal due to your prior convictions.

    However, an experienced criminal defense attorney can still negotiate a favorable plea deal despite your prior record.

    Weapons Involvement

    In cases involving weapon offenses, such as illegal possession of a firearm or assault with a deadly weapon, prosecutors are strongly encouraged not to offer plea deals that involve reduced charges or sentences under PC 1192.7.

    These offenses are considered serious and can carry severe penalties, especially if the weapon was used in the commission of a crime.

    If you’re facing this type of charge, a skilled criminal defense attorney can negotiate a plea bargain that accounts for the specific circumstances of the case. For example, whether the weapon was used for self-defense or whether the defendant has a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon.

    Felony Plea Bargain in California — FAQs

    What are California’s restrictions on a felony plea bargain?

    There are certain restrictions on plea bargains in California.

    Proposition 8, also called the Victims’ Bill of Rights, doesn’t allow plea bargains for violent felonies, violent sex crimes, or driving under the influence. It also gives victims the right to be heard at any plea or sentencing hearings.

    For all other charges, these restrictions protect innocent people from risking a trial and conviction by allowing pleas for one-time or minor offenses.

    Does everyone get offered a plea bargain?

    No, not everyone charged with a criminal offense is offered a plea deal in California. PC 1192.7 advises district attorneys to avoid plea deals for people accused of violent sex crimes under the One-Strike Law.

    Similarly, those charged with violent felonies that involve the use of weapons or felony DUI charges may not receive plea deals.

    What is a felony menacing plea bargain in California?

    “Felony menacing” is a criminal charge in California that involves threatening someone with a deadly weapon or by other means that put them in fear of immediate harm.

    A felony menacing plea bargain typically involves the defendant agreeing to plead guilty to a reduced charge or to accept a reduced sentence in exchange for the prosecutor reducing or dropping the original charge.

    Specific terms of a felony menacing plea bargain in California vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the negotiations between the defendant and their attorney and the prosecutor.

    Explore Your Felony Plea Bargain Options With a Qualified Defense Attorney

    If you’re facing criminal charges in Los Angeles, criminal defense attorney Mariya Melkonyan can represent you with an aggressive legal strategy to get the best outcome for your case.

    With 13 years of experience as a former Deputy District Attorney, Mariya Melkonyan and her team will protect your rights and represent you in court.

    Contact Mariya Melkonyan today to schedule a free consultation and discuss what options exist for your case in terms of a felony plea bargain deal.

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