Guide to Plea Bargaining in Michigan

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More than 90% of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining. When someone is accused of a crime, their lawyer may be able to negotiate a more lenient sentence, often in exchange for a plea of Guilty or No Contest.

When a defendant agrees to a plea bargain, they give up their right to trial and other rights. However, a plea bargain expedites the criminal process and gives a defendant more certainty and control over the outcome of their case.

While plea bargaining may seem straight-forward, it involves subtle nuances that an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate. To negotiate the best plea bargain, a criminal defendant will benefit from working with a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the criminal legal system and the different options available to a criminal defendant.

If you have been charged with a crime in Michigan, you will benefit from working with experienced criminal defense attorney Robert Elmen. Elmen Legal, LLC, is based in Ann Arbor and represents people throughout Michigan. He concentrates his practice exclusively on defending people accused of crimes. Mr. Elmen negotiates with prosecutors every day and can help you evaluate your options and negotiate a favorable plea bargain in your criminal case.

What Is a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain is a negotiated resolution to a criminal case. Plea bargaining results in an agreement between the prosecution and a criminal defendant where the defendant agrees to plead Guilty or No Contest to certain criminal charges, often in exchange for a reduction in the number or severity of the charges or a recommendation that the judge enter a more lenient sentence. In some cases, a criminal defendant will need to do more than just enter a plea of guilty or no contest. For example, a plea bargain may require that the defendant testify against other criminal defendants.

Why Do Plea Bargains Exist?

Plea bargains are common in the American criminal legal system. Experts estimate that between 90% and 95% of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining. Many would agree that plea bargaining is necessary for the smooth operation of the criminal legal system. In addition to providing defendants with a way to resolve their cases quickly, with more certainty, and often with a less severe penalty, plea bargaining benefits the court and prosecutors by removing cases from their docket and avoiding the time and expense of trial. If every criminal case went to trial, judges and prosecutors’ offices would be overwhelmed, and the administration of justice would slow to a crawl.

Common Plea Deals

In a criminal case, there are generally three items a criminal defendant can try to negotiate:

  1. A reduced charge;
  2. A shorter jail sentence or no jail time at all; or
  3. More lenient terms of probation.

Reduced Charges

Many plea bargains focus on reducing the severity of the criminal charges. Particularly in cases where the defendant is charged with a felony, a defense lawyer will try to negotiate a plea to a misdemeanor charge. The penalties for a misdemeanor conviction are substantially less than for a felony, and there are generally fewer collateral consequences when a defendant avoids having a felony conviction on their criminal record.

Even when a defendant has been charged with a misdemeanor, a criminal defense lawyer can negotiate a plea deal for a less severe misdemeanor, a misdemeanor with less severe penalties, or a misdemeanor that does not carry the same collateral consequences.

A Shorter Jail Sentence

Many defendants will negotiate for a more lenient prison sentence or a sentence that will allow them to avoid prison altogether. When negotiating for a less severe sentence, understand that the Guilty plea is entered in exchange for the prosecutor’s recommendation of a lighter sentence. The prosecutor does not have final authority over sentencing decisions, and sentencing is ultimately up to the judge. But in most cases, the judge will follow the prosecutor’s recommendations, and a recommendation from the prosecutor for a lighter sentence will carry significant weight.

More Lenient Terms of Probation

A criminal defense lawyer can also negotiate the terms of the defendant’s probation. The terms of probation can significantly affect a criminal defendant’s quality of life, and a criminal defense lawyer can negotiate probation that will best serve the needs of their client.

Common probation requirements include:

  • Regularly reporting to a probation officer
  • Payment of court costs
  • Community service
  • Compliance with restraining orders
  • Attendance at a drug, alcohol, or substance abuse counseling program
  • Mandatory drug testing

Violating the terms of probation can lead to a probation violation charge. Establishing the most lenient terms of probation will make it easier to comply and reduce the likelihood of an alleged probation violation.

A more lenient sentence may also involve a diversion program. Different jurisdictions offer different diversion programs, and the nature of the program will vary based on the nature of the offense. Most diversions allow a defendant to be placed on probation if they complete a court-ordered treatment program. In some cases, the defendant can have the criminal charges dismissed if they successfully complete a diversion program.

How Does Plea Bargaining Work?

Plea bargaining is a negotiation between the defense lawyer and the prosecutor to resolve the defendant’s criminal case. Plea bargaining can begin as early as arraignment, and a case can still be resolved until the moment before the jury returns a verdict. Most cases are resolved during a pre-trial conference.

Most criminal cases are resolved after criminal discovery is complete and the defense lawyer has explored various possibilities of defenses. The strength of the prosecutor’s case will drastically impact the plea bargaining process. If the prosecutor’s case is strong, they will be less likely to agree to a favorable plea bargain. If their case is weak or if the criminal defense lawyer has advanced defenses that increase the likelihood of a Not Guilty verdict, the prosecutor will be much more likely to agree to a favorable plea bargain.

In any plea bargain, it is essential to review each and every term, as the terms of the agreement could significantly impact a criminal defendant’s life for years to come. Most plea offers from the prosecutor are negotiable, even if the prosecutor says they are not. If there are terms of a proposed plea bargain a criminal defendant does not like, they should always try to negotiate them.

Once a criminal defendant reaches an agreement with the prosecutor, the judge still must approve the agreement to ensure the defendant enters the plea knowingly and voluntarily.

How Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert Elmen Can Help

A criminal defendant will benefit tremendously from working with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Effective plea bargaining requires a thorough knowledge of the law and an in-depth understanding of the plea bargaining process. A skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer can guide a defendant through the process, explain their options, and protect their rights.

If you were charged with a crime in Michigan, Elmen Legal can help. Call (734) 707-8915 or contact Elmen Legal today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your situation and begin preparing your defense.