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The Art of the Plea Deal

screen-shot-2010-06-02-at-101109-am_180x120Criminal defendants, those charged with a criminal offense, have no right to a plea deal with the prosecutor acting on behalf of the State of Florida. The right to a jury trial is guaranteed by the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.  The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” Nowhere however, in the U.S. or the Florida Constitution, does the accused have a right to a plea deal with the prosecuting governmental lawyer.

Plea deals developed out of necessity in the criminal courts and blossomed in the 1970’s. The plea deal sprang forth from the overwhelming amount of criminal prosecutions that began to take root in America in the 1970’s. Plea deals are no more than a contract, between the government and the accused. The government agrees to allow the criminal defendant to plead guilty for a specific sentence or sanction. The guilty plea then allows the prosecutor to free up his or her docket and reduces the amount of cases the prosecutor is holding in their filing cabinets. How does a guilty plea come about?

Guilty pleas or copping a plea deal are not guaranteed or promised but happened more often then not. In many criminal cases, guilty pleas are handed out to the accused. The type of guilty plea the accused is offered is determined by whom the accused has for a criminal defense lawyer. The lawyer handling your criminal file will decide the plea bargain you ultimately receive. After practicing criminal law for over a decade and working as a lawyer since 2001 in the criminal defense arena, there is no doubt in my mind that who you hire makes all the difference in the world as to how your criminal case will be resolved.

This week, Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Stine witnessed two shining examples of how the lawyer who was handling the criminal file made all the difference in the world for the criminal defendant, as to what type of result the accused would receive in their prosecution.

In the first case, a Palm Beach County man pled guilty in 2009 and received a sentenced to five (5) years in prison, followed by two (2) years of probation. The crime for which he was punished did not even score one day in state prison time. Here, the defendant following the advice of his “free” lawyer, was sent to prison for 5 years with 2 years of probation, for a crime that did not even score one day of state prison time. The prior plea deal is an example of how the criminal justice system completely breaks down, with bad lawyering and what Andrew D. Stine refers to as “conveyor belt justice.”

Conveyor belt justice occurs, when certain criminal defense lawyers and assistant state attorneys line up criminal defendants and “plea them out,” like parts coming down a conveyor belt, being picked off the belt to be used to build the “machine.” Team work! The machine building lessens the load, which is the amount of files the criminal lawyer and the assistant state attorney have on their docket, which is the scheme in the first place. Just hope that you or your loved one is not on the conveyor belt, when the whistle blows. The results can be devastating.

The second case was a criminal defendant who spent most of adult life behind bars. The defendant is 49 years old and spent better than the last 35 years in the Florida State Prison System. This fellow was recently charged with two counts of grand theft and burglary of an occupied dwelling. To further complicate matters, because he was released from prison on 10/8/2010 which is within 5 years of the new crimes, the State of Florida was attempting to enhance his sentence with PRR.

PRR is “prison release re-offender.” PRR allows the State of Florida to enhance a convicted felons sentence for certain enumerated offense, if the new crime is committed within 5 years from the date of the criminal’s release from prison. PRR allows for an additional five (5) year sentence on top of what the defendant receives for the substantive crimes. Further, PRR must be served day for day, with no good time or gain time.

The PRR criminal defendant was using a lawyer other than Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Stine for the first 6 months of the case. The plea offer for the first 6 months remained the same, prison! Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Stine was hired in November 2013 and immediately began to prepare the Prison Release Reoffender’s case for trial. The case and evidence were thoroughly combed through, motions were filed on behalf of the PRR defendant and on February 24, 2014 the case was placed on call for trial.

Finally, on 27 February 2014, the case was called for trial and the assistant state attorney telephoned West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Stine hours before the start of the trial and offered the PRR client time served, if the defendant pled guilty to two misdemeanor petit thefts and misdemeanor trespass. The petit thefts are lesser includes of grand theft and the trespass is a lesser included of the burglary. The defendant was elated and shaved off 30 years of a possible prison sentence. The system worked, no conveyor belt justice.

Why speak about the art of the plea deal? Because most criminal cases in America, and in especially in Florida, are pled out. The difference between what types of sentence you receive, the amount of restitution you pay, the conditions of your probation, all depend on who you have as an attorney. Make no butts about it, who you hire to defend you will ultimately decide what your future holds.

The factors that are significant in making a plea deal are: the strength of the state’s evidence, the prior criminal record of the accused, the mitigating factors that the accused can proffer, the affirmative defenses the criminal defendant can demonstrate on his or her behalf and ultimately who the defense attorney is handling your file. Now for a quick look at the previous topics.

The strength of the State’s case is determined by who are the witnesses. Are the witnesses going to testify? Are the witnesses going to be truthfully as to what the facts are about the event that led to the arrest of the accused? What is the credibility of the witnesses that the state is calling against the accused? Are the witnesses even willing to come to court or in for depositions and testify against the accused? What is the witness’s motive to lie in this matter? The prior factors must be weighed when deciding the strength of the State’s case.

The strength of the State’s case may hinge on the prior record or lack of prior record of the accused. Many times if the accused has a prior record, the State will attempt to introduce evidence that the accused has motive, intent, plan, scheme or design to commit the crime and this may be shown through prior bad criminal acts. Sometimes if the accused has no prior criminal record, then the State is more lenient and less likely to want to hurt the accused in sentencing. Without a criminal record the State’s showing of motive, intent, plan, scheme or design in the criminal prosecution is less likely and therefore weakens the State’s case. Plus remember in Florida, the accused’s prior record is calculated on the score sheet and determines the lowest permissible sentence.

The strength of the State’s case may be determined by whether or not a witness or victim will even want to prosecute the accused in the first place. Many times a witness or victim does not want to prosecute the accused after a time of reflection. Time to reflect allows cooler heads to prevail, allows the witness or victim to see their roles in the criminal prosecution and many times forgiveness undermines the State’s case. Without a prosecuting victim the State’s case quickly goes away.

The affirmative defenses that the criminal defendant can show to the prosecutor that are in fact justified as to why the defendant acted or did not act in a certain way. Self-defense, necessity, innocent dupe, entrapment and other defenses you or your loved one may show as to why your actions conformed to criminal behavior can lessen the sentence you face.

Lastly, the criminal defense attorney you hire makes all the difference in the world, as to whether or not you will be successful, with the art of the plea deal. Criminal defense attorneys who properly investigate the crime scene, investigate witnesses, file motions, go to trail and win and are not afraid to stand toe to toe with the State of Florida will get you, the best results! This is an adversarial profession. Every day in the courthouse, someone wins and someone losses. Make sure you are on the winning side of the gavel and properly hire a criminal defense lawyer who will stand up for your rights.

West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney, Andrew D. Stine, has assisted those accused of committing crimes, throughout the State of Florida, since August 2001. For over a decade, Palm Beach Criminal Attorney Andrew D. Stine has stood toe to toe with the State of Florida and made the art of the plea deal a reality for many who have stood accused of criminal acts. Do not feel helpless, scared or frustrated; I am here to help you. I am here to protect your rights. If you or a loved one has been arrested, contact me for your free immediate consultation. If the police are talking to you, you need to be speaking to Palm Beach County Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Stine. Hire Stine or Do the Time.

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