Being charged with a crime is a stressful experience. All of sudden, there is uncertainty and anxiety about what will happen next. This article is an outline of the basic options a person has when charged with a crime.
Two Ways to Resolve Your Criminal Case
When you are charged with a crime, there are two ways that case can be resolved. You can resolve through a plea or a plea bargain, or it could resolve through a challenge by the defendant. The choice of resolution is up to you, the client. It is the criminal defense lawyer’s job to carry out the representation to achieve the client’s objectives.
Pleas and Plea Bargains
The first way to resolve a case is through a plea or plea bargain. A plea bargain is where someone admits guilt to something in exchange for a benefit in return. Hence, the bargain.
For example, let’s say a person is charged with the crime of operating while intoxicated with a high BAC. This is a drunk driving charge which means your blood alcohol content was over .17, it is commonly known as a charge of “super drunk,” although this phrase appears nowhere in the statute. There are serious license restrictions that result from this type of charge, including a 45 days license suspension and a restricted license for one year, as well as an ignition interlock device in your car.
A person might negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecuting attorney. The plea bargain could look like this: The person admits guilt to drinking and driving. In exchange, the prosecutor will dismiss the OWI High BAC charge, and you will plead guilty and be convicted of operating while visibly impaired. Operating while visibly impaired is another drunk driving charge. However, it is a lesser offense than OWI High BAC, and will result is much less severe licensing sanctions, including no driver’s license suspension.
The benefit to you from this plea bargain is the avoidance of the harsher penalties. The prosecutor also benefits from the plea bargain in two ways. First, the prosecutor avoids the work of trial, and second, gains the certainty of a conviction.
Here’s another example of a plea bargain situation. Let’s say you’re charged with retail fraud, known commonly as shoplifting. Your attorney speaks with the prosecutor and negotiates a deal in which you plead guilty to the charged offense, but if you successfully complete probation then the charge will ultimately be dismissed. This type of mechanism occurs under the statute MCL 771.1. The prosecutor must agree to the dismissal.
There are many types of standard plea bargains and outside-the-box plea bargains. Many are dependent on the facts of the case, age of defendant, and type of criminal charges. Sometimes, the prosecutor may not offer a plea bargain at all.
The prosecution is never required to offer or agree to a plea bargain. This might happen for several reasons. The original charge may not be that “serious.” in the sense that there is just no lower charge that could be plead to, and the prosecutor is uninterested in offering anything better. Or conversely, the charge is so serious the prosecutor is unwilling to help a defendant, even where the defendant is presented by the attorney in a sympathetic light.
Another common situation involves prosecutor offices that have policies against certain plea bargains. For example, in Washtenaw County, the State prosecutors do not often reduce a charge of OWI High BAC in a plea bargain.
Challenging the Case
You never have to plead guilty or enter into a plea bargain for any reason. You have a constitutional right to challenge a case.
There are many ways to challenge the case. Your criminal defense attorney will go through every piece of discovery and investigation materials to determine challenges. There may be evidence to attack or witnesses to impeach. We will perform our own independent investigation. Of course the most important source of information often comes from you, the client.
A first step when challenging a case may be to file motions. A motion means to go in front of the Court to request something, usually in advance of a trial.
One example of a motion is where we challenge the police procedures in an effort to have the court suppress a piece of evidence. Let’s say your case involved a police officer pulling you over, and we determine the officer lacked a valid reason for that pull over. We could go in front of the judge and challenge the traffic stop on Fourth Amendment grounds. The judge could then suppress evidence, meaning the judge could say the evidence would not be allowed at trial because it was obtained in an unconstitutional manner.
The ultimate challenge in a criminal case is a trial. The trial can be in front of a jury or a judge. In a trial, we force the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what you are accused of.
We cross examine witnesses, we present our witnesses. In the trial we would tell the jury the narrative of events from our angle.
Overlap Between Your Two Options
There may be overlap between the two options.
Let’s say your ultimate goal is to obtain a plea bargain resolution, but a plea resolution is not immediately available, or the offered plea bargain is insufficient. It may be necessary to challenge the case in order to create an incentive for the prosecution to offer a better plea bargain.
You may have to run the preliminary examination or file motions. Challenging the case makes the prosecution work and creates a dynamic in which you can win the case. Where you change the situation this way, the prosecution may be more willing to work with the defense on a resolution.
Sometimes you may be charged with a crime, and want to challenge it, but are not sure. Your criminal defense lawyer can always evaluate and prepare the case to make it possible to challenge. Your lawyer can then give you that evaluation so you can make an informed decision on whether to move forward with a continued challenge or resolve with a plea bargain.
Good criminal defense attorneys will always evaluate the case with an eye towards a challenge, even if the client is completely set on a plea bargain. This is part of what you are paying your defense attorney for, which is bringing the expertise and experience in evaluating a case.
Get in Touch
Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Washtenaw County.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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ArborYpsi Law’s Practice
Our practice is focused on criminal defense work. Every morning we are in different courts fighting on behalf of our clients. We will fight for you in the same way. It doesn’t matter whether you’re charged with felony home invasion or misdemeanor animal at large, we will attack the case and represent you with the same level of effort and zeal.
Based in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, we regularly appear in the 15th District Court of Ann Arbor, the 14A-1 District Court of Pittsfield Township, and the 14A-2 District Court of Ypsilanti.
Perhaps you are a local resident but have been charged with a case in another court? We are not afraid to leave the area and travel to other courts. Much of our practice has been in Wayne and Oakland County over the last few years, and we have been to many courts in each of those counties, including handling felonies in the circuit courts. Though we are named ArborYpsi Law for a reason, which is that we are a local firm centered on representation in Washtenaw County.
How Can You as a Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me?
We offer free consultations for anyone who would like to meet at the office. At the consultation, we can sit down, go over the law, your options, and explain what will happen in court. We’ll see if we’re the right for you as your attorney or, if not, how to connect with the right attorney, perhaps someone who has a particular focus in the specialty related to your case. We strive to focus all of our skills on criminal defense representation. This means constant learning and study of the craft, art, and science of criminal defense.
Read some of our articles in the ArborYpsi Law Blog, which can be found through the link “resources” at the top of the page, or the “latest news” link on the side of the page. The articles can also be searched through the search function on the right-hand side of the page. There are hundreds of pages on topics ranging from criminal defense to DUI/OWI to representation in court and past trials.