There are thousands of criminal prosecutions in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., every single year. This means court dockets can become almost overwhelming. Still, the U.S. Constitution guarantees most criminal defendants speedy trials. Plea deals are one tactic prosecutors and judges use to move criminal matters through the system quickly.
According to the Offices of the United States Attorneys, if prosecutors offer you a plea deal, you agree to plead guilty to criminal charges often in exchange for a more lenient sentence. For your plea to pass legal muster, though, you must make it both voluntarily and knowingly.
When is a plea voluntary?
There are a few U.S. Supreme Court decisions that speak to the voluntary element of criminal pleas. These opinions generally conclude voluntary pleas are those that do not stem from threats, coercion or untrue promises. Put differently, threats, coercion or false promises from police officers, prosecutors or even judges are likely to make a plea involuntary.
When do you accept a plea deal knowingly?
Deciding whether you are knowingly accepting a plea deal can be a bit more challenging. Broadly, though, the knowledge component of plea bargains requires you to know the rights you are waiving and the potential consequences of accepting the deal. If you do not fully understand each of these, you might not be knowingly pleading guilty.
As a criminal defendant, it is imperative for you to voluntarily and knowingly accept your plea deal. Ultimately, if your deal is involuntary or comes without your requisite knowledge, you might have grounds to set aside your guilty plea.