How long do I have to decide if I’m going to take a plea? – Criminal charges can be some of the scariest and most stressful things that someone can ever go through. A lot of decisions come with the situation, including, but not limited to, whether to hire an attorney and whether or not to plead guilty.
Plea bargains are a normal part of the criminal justice process, but people who have not had to deal with them regularly are often unaware of how they work. A criminal defense attorney can inform you about the strengths and weaknesses of your case and the pros and cons of taking a plea, but timing is something that can be very unpredictable. In this blog, we will discuss the timing of taking a plea and the consequences of that. Like all of our blogs, this is intended for educational purposes only and not as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense lawyer.
Take time with the decision, but you don’t have forever
In North Carolina, the policies regarding when plea offers are extended and the deadline in which they must be accepted or rejected vary to some degree depending on the county. Typically, however, the defendant has at least a month to decide what he or she is going to do.
This should be a very informed decision discussed between the criminal defense attorney and the client. Several factors should be considered, including, but not limited to:
- The information contained in the criminal discovery; including physical evidence found, witness statements, and any admissions made by the defendant
- What sentence is being offered versus what sentence is possible if you were to proceed with a criminal trial
- What the current charges are versus what you would have to plead to
- The collateral consequences of the plea
- The calculated risk of what is likely to happen at trial
Plea offers do expire
Typically, a criminal defendant has until arraignment to accept the plea offer. In this case when the plea offer is not accepted at arraignment, the defendant enters in a plea of not guilty, the plea offer in that form is withdrawn, and the case is set for trial.
This does not mean you can’t still plead guilty once the trial process begins; in fact, a defendant can plead guilty at any time during trial proceedings. However, it most likely will not be under the same conditions of the original plea offer. For example, your plea offer may have had certain concessions such as:
- Pleading to a lesser crime than what was originally charged
- A fixed sentence
- The dropping of some counts of charges or some charges altogether
When the original plea offer expires, it will be up to the prosecutor whether to reextend that offer or whether to give a new plea offer with less favorable terms.
Changing a plea offer
Clients often ask for a better plea offer. It is not that simple because criminal defense attorneys do not control the offer. Once a plea offer is extended it can be very difficult to get it changed. In order to get it changed, one would likely have to show the prosecutor a change in the circumstances, a mistake in the facts, a change in the facts, or some other significant facts. It is not simply a matter of asking for a better plea offer.
Criminal law can be very complicated and very overwhelming. If you need a criminal defense attorney in North Carolina or South Carolina for either state or federal charges, contact us.