Recently in Plea Bargaining Category

April 14, 2010

Guilty Pleas and Non-Citizens

Most people convicted of crimes have plead guilty rather than gone to trial.  Before pleading guilty, however, defendants understandably want to know what the punishment will be.  In recent years, courts have differed as to whether defense lawyers have to inform non-citizens that they are subject to deportation if they are convicted.  In Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) the U.S. Supreme Court put the debate to bed by deciding by a vote of 7-2 that defense lawyers have an obligation to advise non-citizens that a guilty plea might result in deportation.

The outcome of Padilla makes it more likely that defendants will understand the true ramifications of a conviction before pleading guilty.  On the other hand it may increase the workload of the courts by reducing the number of cases ending with guilty pleas.  In an era when convictions even for minor drug offenses can result in deportation (not only of illegal immigrants but also resident aliens), non-citizen defendants may figure that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by pleading guilty. 

October 15, 2009

Jose Padilla Asks the Supremes to Void HIs Guilty Plea

Jose Padilla pleaded guilty in Kentucky to 3 felony drug charges, in exchange for the state agreeing to drop a fourth charge. According to Padilla, his lawyer never told him that his guilty plea would almost surely mean that he will be deported after he serves his sentence.  Padilla has petitioned for the right to set aside his guilty plea and go to trial. His case is now awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Padilla's claim involves the SIxth Amendment right to counsel in criminal cases. The Court has to decide whether defense attorenys are constitutionally deficient if they fail to advise defendants about the likely collateral legal consequences of guilty pleas. If the Supreme Court rules in Padilla's favor, the question of whether Padilla's attorney in fact failed to advise him that he'd probably be deported is a matter that a lower court will have to decide after conducting a hearing. 

Had I been in Padilla's position, I think I would have expected my attorney to know and tell me that if I pleaded guilty I'd probably be deported.  It seems reasonable to expect all defense attorneys to live up to that standard. They're the paid professionals, and they ought to know or be willing to find out about the likely legal consequences of guilty pleas before giving legal advice to clients. 

September 9, 2008

A Plea Bargain That Didn't Sell

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Almost every criminal case ends with a plea bargain. Prosecutors and defense lawyers agree on defendants' sentences, and judges make them official by accepting the agreed-upon terms. But in the high-profile case of Henry Samueli, the judge's refusal to accept a plea bargain serves as an important reminder that judges still have ultimate control over sentencing.

Samueli was a principal in Broadcom, a company that made a fortune by designing and selling computer chips. Samueli and other greedy Broadcom executives have been accused of inflating their already huge earnings by backdating stock options and then lying to the Securities & Exchange Commission about what they did. In the summer of 2008, Samueli pleaded guilty to lying to the SEC, but the guilty plea would stand only if the judge accepted the plea bargain that Samueli's lawyers worked out with federal prosecutors. Samueli's deal: He would not go to prison, but instead would be put on probation and pay a $12 million fine to the government. 

Federal judge Cormac Carney said, "No deal." To the judge, Samueli seemed to be buying his way out of prison by paying a far greater fine than the judge could impose after a trial. Also, the agreement failed to require Samueli to cooperate with prosecutors in cases involving other Broadcom executives.

Samueli can now withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial. If so, the jury will never be told that he had at one point tried to end the case by pleading guilty. More likely, the lawyers will try to work out a plea bargain that Judge Carney will accept. Samueli undoubtedly hopes that the judge will say, "You've got a deal" -- even if a revised agreement allows Samueli to avoid going to prison.

Speaking of options, you should know that plea bargains don't always give criminal defendants the right to withdraw guilty pleas should judges refuse to go along with their terms. A prosecutor may say something like, "I'll recommend to the judge that you not serve time in jail, but the sentence is up to them, and your guilty plea is final even if the judge refuses to follow my recommendation." In this situation, the defendant cannot not withdraw the guilty plea if the judge imposes a jail sentence.