Prosecutors Not Disclosing Extrajudicial Consequences of a Plea Bargain
Plea bargaining has become the norm in criminal cases, with 97 percent of federal convictions and 94 percent of state convictions resulting from guilty pleas. Plea bargains have become more and more common as prosecutors increasingly threaten defendants with serious charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences in order to try to convince defendants to take a deal. Those accused of crimes are likely frightened of the trial process, especially if there is a serious threat of a long jail sentence or other harsh penalties if they don’t successfully defend themselves. As a result, when prosecutors offer plea deals, defendants often accept them because they worry about what will happen if they don’t.
The problem is, prosecutors are not always completely forthcoming about all of the consequences of a plea bargain. As a recent article in the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2703664 explains, the “full force of a criminal conviction is only felt and known after the most immediate consequences” are over. Prosecutors focus on the jail term, probation, fines, and immediate penalties that defendants face after a conviction, but they don’t tell defendants about the collateral consequences that can result from having a criminal record.
Defendants who are accused of crimes need to make truly informed decisions about whether a plea bargain is the right choice in their situation. Even a defendant who decides to enter a plea deal should be represented by a lawyer who can provide assistance in negotiating the best deal possible. Bukh Law Firm, PLLC is there to represent you in dealing with prosecutors and can advise you on your options so you can determine if a plea bargain is the best strategic choice to minimize consequences. Give us a call as soon as possible after an arrest, before you agree to any deal the prosecutor offers you.
Extrajudicial Consequences of Plea Bargains Can Have a Profound Impact
Prosecutors can make plea bargains seem attractive by using one of two types of overcharging. One type is horizontal overcharging, where defendants face separate criminal charges for each transaction they participated in or where prosecutors break up or fragment a single criminal offense into numerous component offenses. The other type is vertical overcharging, which involves charging defendants for more serious offenses which are not necessarily credibly part of the case but which give prosecutors leverage.
Facing the threat of these very serious charges, defendants are often amenable to negotiation. Prosecutors then offer deals which either allow for a recommendation of a reduced sentence, and/or which involve reducing the charge. Prosecutors show defendants the possibility of long jail sentences or large fines, and then offer a shorter sentence and other reduced penalties if a defendant pleads guilty. Unfortunately, prosecutors only focus on the specific judicial penalties, and not on the far-reaching impact a criminal conviction can have.
As the Stanford Journal article explains, there is no constitutional obligation of prosecutors to explain extrajudicial consequences that can result from a guilty verdict after a defendant agrees to a plea deal. There are very few situations in which a prosecutor has to disclose non-criminal penalties resulting from a conviction, such as where deportation is a possible result of conviction and where a defendant is not represented by an attorney.
Outside of a few special situations with specific disclosure requirements, defendants often know very little about long-term consequences of a conviction, even though these consequences can be severe enough to result in “modern day ‘civil death.’”
These long-term consequences can include things like loss of citizenship rights, abridgment or loss of property rights, and loss of occupational licenses or access to public benefits. Family law cases can also be affected by a past criminal conviction, and a defendant with a criminal conviction often face significant barriers to future employment.
While prosecutors may try to convince you to take a plea so they can bolster their conviction rates and appear tough on crime, it is up to you to protect your future. Contact Bukh Law Firm, PLLC to speak with a New York criminal defense lawyer who can assist you in determining if a plea bargain is best and who can help you explore all options for responding to charges.