What Happens If a State Court Judge Won't Take My Plea Bargain
Statistically, a far greater number of criminal cases in any state or county end in a plea bargain arrangement rather than a trial. However, any plea bargain arrived at between a prosecutor and a defense lawyer is subject to the approval of the assigned judge. More times than not, the judge, for sake of judicial economy will defer to the judgment of the prosecutors and approve plea bargains that the court itself may not prefer. Otherwise, trial dockets would get way stacked up, and this causes another set of problems.
There, however, circumstances in which a judge, for personal or political reasons, just cannot agree to sentence a defendant according to the plea bargain worked out by the lawyers. So, what happens then? Here are a few scenarios:
- When Judge refuses to accept the plea of the accused.
When the judge refuses to accept the plea because he/she disagrees with the sentence to be imposed per the agreement, any number of things can be done to put a plea back on track. I've actually been party to this multiple times in many different counties around the state of Oklahoma. It can be nerve-racking for the client; but, it should not be for your lawyer. This is where your lawyer's ability to keep a cool head under pressure can be of great benefit to you. Here's some possibilities:
Judge gives absolutely no direction other than the punishment is not stiff enough. In this case, prosecutor and defense counsel work blindly to satisfy all parties, including the court, and take revised pleas to the court until the court approves.
Judge states exactly what prevents the court from accepting the plea. In this case, the plea agreement is revised according to the satisfaction of the court and all parties, and the accused enters his plea of guilty to the acceptable terms.
Judge re-negotiates the plea bargain with defense counsel in chambers, with the acquiescence of the absent prosecutor (this is rare, involves judicial overreaching, and blurs the lines between rolls of adversaries and the court – but, as a lawyer, you don't walk away from it if you need a deal for your client). Then a plea is entered along the mutually acceptable terms.
Client cannot accept the only deal that the court will accept. Set the matter for trial – it's ultimately for the client to decide what he will accept in terms of a plea bargain.
- When Judge accepts the plea of the accused and pronounces sentence accordingly, then changes mind.
This is another ball of wax completely, and when the court pronounces sentence, the court is essentially stuck with enforcing those terms. If the court does not perceive itself as “stuck”, an experienced defense lawyer may have to seek the assistance of the appellate court to enforce the plea agreement. Under certain circumstances, a writ of mandamus may be sought from the appellate court, instructing the judge to follow the sentence that he/she already pronounced.
Truly, just about anything can happen in court, and the more experience your lawyer has in the courtroom, the more you can trust that you're in capable hands through tumultuous events.