Judges Are Not Required To Accept Plea Bargains

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

News was made this week when a federal judge in Louisiana refused to accept the guilty plea of former NFL player Darren Sharper, who is accused of numerous counts of sexual assault.

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Sharper’s attorneys and federal prosecutors worked out a deal where Sharper would serve nine years in prison. This sentence would have been significantly below the 15 to 20 year range called for in the United States Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines, although only advisory, are adhered to by the vast majority of federal judges. Federal judges are not party to plea agreements and are under no obligation to accept the plea agreements. Rather, a federal judge can impose whatever sentence he or she sees fit. What makes this unusual is that the judge in the case didn’t impose what she believes to be the appropriate sentence; she refused to accept the plea altogether. As a result, Sharper now has the opportunity to withdraw from his agreement with the prosecutors altogether and attempt to negotiate a resolution more acceptable to the judge. And no, the defense team can’t try to find another judge to accept the plea. In federal court, the judge you get is the judge you get.

Closer to home, state courts here in Los Angeles County operate a bit differently.
As in federal court, a judge can also refuse to accept a guilty plea, but it does not happen as often. In the overwhelming majority of cases, a Los Angeles County judge will go along with the prosecutor. In the rare instance when a judge isn’t inclined to go along with the proposed disposition, the lawyers usually get a sense beforehand. Also unlike in federal court, there are no sentencing guidelines in California. California follows determinate sentencing laws where felonies are sentenced to one of three terms.

The bottom line: Whether in state court or federal court, know your judge before crafting your plea agreement, or you could be in for an unwelcome surprise.

If you or a loved one are facing charges in state court in California or federal charges anywhere in the country, you may contact criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg for a confidential consultation.

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