What Are The Three Types Of Plea Bargains In Juvenile Cases?
In the Founding Fathers era, and for many years thereafter, jury trials resolved almost all criminal cases in the United States. Bench trials, in which a judge serves as both factfinder and legal referee, were rare, and plea bargains were almost unheard of.
Things started changing in the late 1800s. The country was growing fast and taxpayers were unwilling to pay for more courts, judges and so on. One of the first recorded plea bargains occurred in Alameda County, California in 1881. Sewing machine company employee Albert McKenzie, who allegedly stole $52.50 from his employer, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor embezzlement rather than face felony charges. Today, roughly the opposite is true. Jury trials are almost unheard of, bench trials are rare, and plea bargains, in one form or another, resolve about 95 percent of criminal cases in Florida.
The plea bargain percentage in juvenile cases may be even higher. Subjecting children to the stress and trauma of a trial is often a bad idea, especially if, as is usually the case, the child is already dealing with some issues.
As outlined below, a Tampa juvenile charges attorney has basically three options when it comes to plea bargains in juvenile cases. Like that 1881 plea agreement, juvenile plea bargains often include reduced charges. Reduced punishment, like probation instead of confinement, is common as well. According to an old saying, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. In other words, if you have something pretty good, like a favorable plea bargain, you shouldn’t give it up for a chance at something better, like a not-guilty verdict at trial. This saying usually holds true in juvenile criminal cases.
The defendant pleads guilty and a jury assesses punishment. Overall, slow pleas are very rare. But they are a bit more common in juvenile cases. Many people, including many jurors, are inherently reluctant to send children to jail.
Additionally, many juvenile cases have extenuating circumstances, like the defendant’s age, which a jury can consider when it assesses punishment.
If agreed plea negotiations break down, defendants may almost literally throw themselves on the mercy of the court.
As a practical matter, to determine punishment, the judge usually starts with the prosecutor’s last plea bargain offer. Then, depending on the facts of the case, the skill of a Tampa criminal defense lawyer, and a few other factors, the judge assesses a slightly worse, or slightly more lenient, punishment.
Attorneys sometimes combine slow pleas and open pleas. Attorneys call character and other witnesses who testify before the judge in a brief hearing. Sometimes this tactic is quite effective, and other times it falls flat.
Most prosecutors open plea bargain negotiation sessions with generic one-size-fits-all offers, usually depending on the severity of the charges and the defendant’s criminal record.
Then, defense attorneys argue for a reduction, usually based on available defenses in the case. Vandalism and other property damage crimes are a good example.
These offenses have a lot of moving parts, mostly because prosecutors must secure favorable testimony from the property’s owner. Many owners are unwilling to press charges, especially if the defendant paid restitution. Additionally, most owners haven’t testified in court before. Therefore, prosecutors must hold their hands to secure favorable testimony. Many prosecutors are unwilling to invest that extra time in a case.
Contact a Diligent Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Virtual, home, and after-hours visits are available.