THE FAIRFAX COUNTY FELONY PLEA OF GUILTY PROCESS.
Most people facing a plea, have never been in that situation before. This article explains what a person is agreeing to, if he/she pleads guilty to a Felony. A Criminal Attorney Fairfax VA trusts, should spend a great deal of time with his client to assure that the client understands all the elements and ramifications of a Plea. Only after an extensive discussion with your Attorney should you enter a Plea Agreement and Plead Guilty.
All pleas to a Felony are done in open court and through the use of a written plea form. This form’s purpose is to assure that the Defendant knows his rights, is of sound mind, and is not being forced to enter the plea. Each Plea Agreement form can be different, so consult your form specifically. However, all Plea Agreement forms will cover the following basic elements:
- The Defendants understands the charges against him (the things that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for the Prosecutor to prove the case) and any defenses available to the Defendant.
- The Defendant has discussed with his Criminal Attorney Fairfax VA about the Plea and that in the end it is the Defendant’s decision to plea and no one else’s.
- The Defendant is pleading guilty because he is, in fact, guilty.
- The Defendant understands the punishment range. For example, a Class 6 Felony carries a penalty of 0 – 5 years in prison. Your Criminal Attorney Fairfax VA should fully explain all possible sentences and how the Sentencing Guidelines can affect the sentence. Sentencing Guidelines are used to provide a Judge with the range of punishment that the average Defendant with a similar charge and criminal history has received. The guidelines are not mandatory. Judges can go above or below, but in order to go above, the Judge must document aggravating factors to justify why he went over. Some charges have mandatory minimum sentences too. To describe the interplay between the maximum sentence, the guidelines and a mandatory minimum, perhaps an example will help. For a Plea of Guilty on Class 6 Felony with a mandatory minimum of one year, and the Sentencing Guidelines say 6 months to 2 years, that means that while a Judge can give up to 5 years in prison, he should follow the Guidelines which say 6 months to 2 years. However, since there is a mandatory minimum of one year, the 6-month sentence is impossible. So in reality, the Judge should sentence between 1 year and 2 years. The Judge, however, could go over 2 years, but to do so, he would have to document aggravating circumstances to justify such a departure from the Guidelines.
- Following the termination of his sentence, the Defendant can receive up to 3 years of probation.
- The Defendant is giving up his right to a trial by a Judge or a Jury. He is also giving up other Constitutional Rights such as his right to testify or right to remain silent, he right to compel witnesses to attend whom he believes would be useful in his case, and his right to cross-examine all those who testify on behalf of the Prosecution. He is also giving up his right to use the power of the Court to obtain evidence to help his case. Basically, this makes sure the Defendant knows he has a right to a trial, and is giving up that right.
- If at trial there is an error of law made, the Defendant can appeal the case to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. A Plea of Guilty basically gives up the right to a trial (see above). Thus, the Plea form always includes an acknowledgment that the Defendant is giving up his right to appeal. This basically means that if you do not like the decision of this court on sentencing, you do not have a right to ask another court to overturn that decision. This decision will be final.
- Plea Agreement which often accompany a Plea of Guilt, come in all shapes and sizes. The agreement that your Criminal Attorney Fairfax VA and the Prosecutor have negotiated usually include one or more or any combination of the following: (1) a deal that drops (the Court uses the Latin term for “not prosecute”) one or more charges if the Defendant pleads guilty to on or more other charges, (2) reducing a charge to a lesser offense, (3) an agreed punishment. If there is no agreement to the sentence (#3 above), then the Prosecutor and Defense Attorney can argue for any punishment – usually the Prosecution wanting the max and the Defense Attorney arguing the minimum.
- The Defendant asserts on one is forcing or threatening him to plead.
- If the Defendant is no a citizen of the United States, then he is told that this Plea could have serious immigration consequences including deportation. It is advisable for a non-US citizen to retain an immigration attorney in addition to his Criminal Attorney Fairfax VA.
In Fairfax, the Prosecutors tend to use the standard form put out by the Supreme Court. Other jurisdictions use expanded Plea Agreement forms, but Fairfax seems to be bare bones. This is most likely because Fairfax is, by far, the busiest Court in Virginia. After all, Fairfax has 1.2 Million residents. The Prosecutor’s office does not hire enough Prosecutors per population as other jurisdictions. Thus, the Prosecutors stick to the standard forms as they don’t have a lot of time to do individualized Plea Agreement forms. This can be good and bad for the Defendant. Good, if the Prosecutor forgets to put some restriction in the form. Bad if the Defendant is represented by an inexperienced attorney who cannot eyeball the potential future pitfalls. For example, Fairfax Prosecutors do not routinely put in the Plea Agreement what type of plea it will be. You want the type of plea that allows you to withdraw the plea if the Judge does not accept it. And you better get it in writing! Obviously, you need an experienced Criminal Attorney Fairfax VA trusts to look out for you.