Prosecutors in Oklahoma file thousands of charges every year. Take for example Tulsa County. According to OSCN.net the DA’s Office filed 4,857 felony and 4,354 misdemeanor charges in 2022. In neighboring Rogers County, the prosecutor’s office filed 524 felony and 752 misdemeanor charges the same year. But, most charges never go to trial. Instead, most are settled with a plea deal or plea bargain, said Tulsa criminal defense attorney Stephen Cale.
The following is for educational purposes only, is not legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, call the Cale Law Office at 918-277-4800 for a free initial consultation. Or, contact us through the web.
Here are six things you need to know about plea bargains in Oklahoma.
1. Plea Deals in Oklahoma State Court
A plea deal avoids going to trial. Instead, the prosecutor and the defendant agree to certain terms to “settle” the case against the defendant.
Typically, the prosecutor’s office initiates a plea offer or recommendation. The prosecutor may make the offer before any hearings or at any point during the case’s progression. The criminal defense attorney consults with his client to negotiate the terms of the deal. Both parties have the option to accept or reject the offer and to make counter offers.
2. Factors That Help Shape a Plea Deal
Each case is different. So, not all plea deals will look the same. Here are some factors that contribute to the agreement:
Strong Defense Strategy: A well-prepared and effective defense strategy, backed by strong evidence or legal arguments, can put pressure on the prosecution to offer a more favorable plea deal. This might include challenging the evidence, questioning witness credibility, or identifying legal flaws in the case.
Cooperation with Authorities: Defendants who cooperate with law enforcement or provide valuable information about other criminal activities or individuals may be seen as more willing to make amends. This cooperation can lead to reduced charges or lighter sentencing recommendations.
Caution! Cooperation with law enforcement before an arrest or charges being filed is not a good idea. If police want to talk to you, always tell them that you want a lawyer. Then, your defense attorney can help negotiate a deal if that’s what you want.
See Related Article: Top 10 Reasons Not to Talk to Police
Mitigating Circumstances: Demonstrating mitigating factors, such as a lack of prior criminal history, genuine remorse, or the presence of extenuating circumstances, can influence the prosecutor’s willingness to negotiate a more lenient plea deal.
Legal Representation: Having a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney can make a significant difference. A competent attorney can negotiate on your behalf, assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, and advocate for a more favorable outcome.
Prosecutorial Discretion: Prosecutors have discretion in offering plea deals. That means that they are not required to offer a plea deal. Factors such as the strength of the evidence, the seriousness of the crime, and the defendant’s background can all influence their willingness to offer a favorable plea deal. Building a strong case or presenting compelling reasons for leniency can encourage prosecutors to be more flexible in their offers.
3. Terms In a Plea Bargain
What is included in a plea bargain varies from case to case. It’s important to note that the specific circumstances of each case can vary widely, and these factors may not guarantee a favorable plea deal. Consulting with an attorney who focuses on criminal defense is essential for tailored advice based on your unique situation.
Here are some various terms that might be part of a plea deal:
Deferred Sentence: With a deferred sentence, the defendant is on probation for a certain period of time. The defendant also must abide by certain probation conditions during that time period.
Some examples of conditions of probation on a DUI charge include completing a drug and alcohol assessment, following the recommendations of the assessment, completing a DUI school and Victims Impact Panel (VIP), lawful employment, compliance with city, state, federal and tribal laws, and payment of fines.
The advantage of a deferred sentence is that, upon successful completion of probation, the case is dismissed, and the record is expunged. In other words, a deferred sentence does not count as a conviction if a defendant successfully completes it and has abided by the conditions of probation.
Suspended Sentence: A suspended sentence also involves probation with specific conditions. However, unlike a deferred sentence, the case is not dismissed at the end of probation. Consequently, a suspended sentence results in a conviction for the pled crime.
Split Sentence: Under a split sentence, the defendant serves a portion of the sentence in jail or prison. Then, he or she gets out of incarceration and serves the remaining part of the sentence on probation. The probation includes certain conditions.
For example, suppose a drunk driver runs over a pedestrian who is crossing a roadway. The district attorney’s office charges the driver with DUI and negligent homicide. As a plea deal, the defendant will get a suspended sentence for the DUI, but a split sentence of six months in jail and six months of probation after that. (The possible punishment for negligent homicide is zero to one year in the county jail and/or a fine of at least $1,000.)
Reduced Charge: Occasionally, a criminal defense attorney can negotiate a plea deal that reduces the original charge. For example, a felony charge would be downgraded to a misdemeanor. Getting a charge reduced often means a less severe penalty.
Reduced Sentence: Some cases are challenging and there is a substantial amount of evidence against the defendant. In this instance, the likelihood of a judge or jury convicting the defendant is strong. And, in cases like these, the prosecutor will not agree to probation. So, a criminal defense attorney might negotiate a reduced sentence, lessening potential prison or jail time.
So now you know some terms that may be part of a plea deal. Next, let’s next take a look at the types of pleas that a defendant can enter in a plea bargain: guilty; no contest; blind plea; and Alford plea.
4. The Difference Between Guilty and No Contest Pleas
By pleading guilty, you admit to committing the charged crime. In some cases, paperwork regarding the plea deal will recite a summary of the facts of the crime. This plea is different from a “no contest” plea.
A no contest plea, also called a plea of nolo contendere, means you accept the charge without admitting guilt and without presenting a defense. A no contest plea has different consequences in civil matters related to a criminal charge than a guilty plea does. For instance, if you plead guilty to a charge of causing an injury accident while driving under the influence, that plea can be used against you in a lawsuit related to the accident. However, if you plead no contest, your plea cannot be used against you in the lawsuit.
5. The Blind Plea
In a blind plea, the defendant pleads guilty without a negotiated, predetermined sentence. Both the prosecutor and the defendant agree that the defendant will plead guilty, but they let the judge decide the punishment. Typically, the judge orders a presentence investigation (PSI) before imposing a sentence. Among other things, the PSI report covers the defendant’s version of the allegations, family and financial history, any prior criminal history, and social history.
The blind plea is not ideal since there is no agreed punishment. A judge could impose a sentence that is better than hoped for, or worse. With a blind plea, a defendant basically puts himself at the mercy of the judge.
6. Alford Plea
The Alford plea is named after the 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case North Carolina v. Alford. In that case, prosecutors charged Henry Alford with first-degree murder. However, he pled guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder. Alford said he did so to avoid the death penalty.
With an Alford plea, the defendant maintains innocence but acknowledges that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a judge or jury. This type of plea often results in pleading to a lesser charge or receiving a reduced sentence.
Is a Plea Deal the Right Choice?
A number of factors determine whether a plea deal is the right choice for a person. At any rate, it’s the policy of the Cale Law Office to file a discovery request before negotiating a plea deal. The discovery request forces the prosecutor to turn over evidence that it has in the case, including evidence that is favorable to the defendant. Getting evidence helps a criminal defense attorney to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
Related Story: 4 Reasons You May Want A Plea Deal In A DUI, DWI Or APC Case
Call 918-277-4800 for a free initial consultation and defense strategy plan. Serving clients throughout Northeastern Oklahoma, including Tulsa, Washington, Nowata, Rogers, Craig, Okmulgee, Creek, Pawnee and Osage counties.
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