The Pitfalls of Plea Negotiations Without a Lawyer
When people discuss the criminal system in Massachusetts and its problems, more likely than not, they’re referring to the felony system. Even the media focuses on high-profile cases, like where someone may have been wrongfully convicted of murder. Misdemeanors are notoriously understudied, both nationally and within the state.
The reason that misdemeanors are understudied may be the same reason you’re considering going it alone or not hiring counsel: they are considered unimportant, unexciting, or just “not that serious.” However, the truth of the matter is that the number of misdemeanors filed each year dwarfs the number of felonies. If you’ve been charged with a crime in Massachusetts, odds are it was a misdemeanor. Since the misdemeanor system is paid less attention, the problems of the criminal system go unchecked and may be exasperated as compared to the felony system – all the more reason to hire a competitive and aggressive lawyer who can do your defense justice.What’s the Difference: Felony vs. Misdemeanor?
In Massachusetts, a misdemeanor is any charge that carries a maximum of 2½ years in the House of Corrections. A felony, on the other hand, is any charge that is punishable by time in state prison. There are also limitations on what type of cases can be heard in Massachusetts’s two criminal trial courts: the District Court and the Superior Court.Don’t Sleep on a Misdemeanor Charge
This website has discussed the hidden or collateral consequences of convictions before, but the penalties that accompany a seemingly unimportant misdemeanor conviction can be devastating. These consequences can include:
- Difficulty obtaining/retaining employment
- Denial or revocation of a trade license
- Discipline or expulsion from school
- Eligibility for financial aid
- Deportation or immigration consequences
- Eligibility for an array of public services like food stamps or housing assistance
Even if you are not currently using these public services, there may come a time when you’ll need to, and a misdemeanor conviction or guilty plea could get in the way.Plea Bargaining With Prosecutors: Don’t go it Alone
For many of the reasons above, many people who have been charged with a misdemeanor will opt to negotiate with a prosecutor for a lesser sentence and choose to plead guilty. Most people do not realize that prosecutors have two (often conflicting) roles. Their sole responsibility is not to simply obtain convictions – they are obligated to seek justice. And sometimes justice means dismissing a case or not filing criminal charges at all.
Many district attorneys have lofty goals, such as progressing into politics or leadership positions. Regardless of what anyone says: metrics matter. There is a tremendous amount of pressure, especially among ADAs early in their careers, to “win” cases.
Last month, the American Bar Association detailed results of a five-year study about the role and responsibilities of prosecutors working with unrepresented defendants during plea bargaining. The opinion is available in its full, but some of the highlights are included below.
The opinion found that some prosecutors have used the following methods to obtain a plea from unrepresented persons:
- Encouraging guilty pleas before discussing the right to counsel
- Expressing or implying that seeking counsel will lead to a harsher punishment
- Bringing large groups of arrestees into the courtroom at once and asking how they will plea
- Asking arrestees to sign forms or documents waiving their rights, or using these forms as a condition of the negotiation
- Allowing police to be involved in plea negotiations or the plea tendering process
- Mentioning the right to counsel, with no real information on how to obtain counsel
- Failing to provide information on what fees or court costs can be waived if you are unable to afford them
The criminal system in this country is bursting at its seams. Crushing caseloads should not be taken out on criminal defendants – you never need to plead if you don’t want to and you should not have to fear harsher punishment because you exercised your rights.Speak to a Boston Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Case, no Matter How Small
I strongly urge you to speak with an attorney before pleading your case. A good criminal defense attorney is going to make sure you are aware of your rights and give you the choice of which rights to invoke. Even if you ultimately decide a plea is in your best interest, sometimes holding out is the leverage you need to get the best deal.
The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy has twenty-five years of experience defending people charged with crimes in Massachusetts. Attorney Murphy provides a free and confidential opportunity to discuss your case and its possible outcomes, as well as reasonable rates that could save you from a conviction that could haunt you for years to come.
Don’t just plead your case because you feel pressure from the District Attorney – you are innocent until proven guilty, and it is the Commonwealth’s job to prove your guilt. Call us anytime, 24/7, at (617) 367-0450, or use our online form to set up an appointment. Our office is conveniently located at One South Market Street, Fourth Floor in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace.