My goal as your defense attorney will always be to reach the best possible outcome for your case. Often, this will involve a plea deal with the prosecution, as they seek to avoid an expensive and time-consuming trial as well. But how good a deal I can get will not just depend on the present circumstances of the case and your behavior; it will also depend on your past actions and criminal record. This chapter explores that link, as well as other elements that will affect your ability to get a favorable plea.
Why The Past Is Never Truly Forgotten In Law
One reason I work so very hard to help each and every client avoid a conviction is that each one has a way of coming back to haunt them if they are arrested again in the future. This is because prosecutors and judges are legally obliged to take your criminal record into consideration when determining everything from the charges against you, your bail options, your sentence if convicted, and your plea options during negotiations.
In Washington, the exact impact of your past crimes and convictions will depend on what you are being charged with now, in the present, as much as what you have done in the past.
Previous Misdemeanors Will Influence The Outcome Of Your Current Case
Fortunately, criminal history is not quite as strict a factor when it comes to misdemeanors in Washington. The prosecutor and judge will certainly consider your past convictions, but automatic legal impacts are rare, except for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases.
For DUI charges, if you have two DUI convictions within seven years, the second one will automatically come with 30 days of custody, regardless of the outcome negotiated. If this keeps happening, even if there are more than seven years between DUI arrests, the prosecution may infer you have a problem with alcohol. As a result, if they decide you are a habitual offender, they might require some sort of treatment in addition to the other penalties imposed by the court. But compared to what happens with prior convictions when facing a felony charge, that is little more than a slap on the wrist.
Previous Felony Convictions Have A Much Stronger Impact On Criminal Sentencing In Washington
The rules are much more formal and strict for taking into account prior convictions during a felony charge. The court will assign you an “offender score,” with each prior conviction adding to that score. The higher the score, the longer the sentence you end up with. For example, if you are charged with vehicular assault (you hit someone with your car) but have no criminal history whatsoever, your offender score will be zero. As a result, your sentencing range would be only 30 to 90 days of prison time. With a good negotiation, you could be out in a month.
On the other hand, if you had ten past convictions for various felonies of any kind, your offender score becomes ten. This increases the sentencing range to 24 to 48 months. The impact is massive. And assuming you are convicted for this one, there is nothing your attorney can do, no matter how skilled, to get that sentence reduced to below 24.
The good news is that this rule only takes into account felony convictions, which means if we are able to avoid getting a felony conviction on your record, any future convictions will not suffer from a higher offender score. Even if you were arrested, even if you were charged, as long as you were not convicted, the crime will not come back to haunt you quite so hard the next time around. Avoiding such a conviction on your record is one very big reason why you might want to take a plea deal.
To Plea Or Not To Plea, That Is The Question
I often get clients who are determined to go to trial. And I do not blame them; television often represents the courtroom dramatics of trials as the pinnacle of justice. But the truth is, they and you are more than likely going to accept a plea deal. And chances are you will feel pretty good about it, too.
When considering whether or not to take a plea, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: what do you want? Do you want to avoid getting anything on your record? Simply stay out of jail? Avoid fines you cannot afford? Prove your innocence at all costs? Whatever your goal is, your lawyer will probably be able to push for a plea that helps you accomplish it.
Once you start looking over the facts, reviewing what the prosecution can easily prove and what they will have difficulty convincing a judge or jury of, you can start evaluating your chances and the potential consequences of refusing or accepting a deal.
Plea Deals Are A Cost Benefit Compromise, Not A Get Out Of Jail Free Card
When it comes to accepting a plea, you should always weigh the advantages against the disadvantages. Most of the time, the advantages will win out, which is why roughly 95% of cases are settled out of court with a plea of one form or another.
After all, a plea deal might ensure you see no jail time or have to pay only minimal fines. Sometimes, we can even get the case dismissed if we make a deal with the court and you follow through on that contract for the given period of time required. Since it isn’t on your record during the duration of the contract, and the charges are dismissed at the end, the charge ends up never going on your record at all. You could thus end up avoiding a conviction entirely.
It is not my job to fight a hopeless battle against all odds. It is my job as your defense attorney to make sure you understand the laws, the stakes, your chances, and your options. I help create the best possible conditions for you, but the choice of outcome is always in your hands. Sometimes that will mean taking a plea to save money, minimize jail time, or avoid a conviction on your record; other times, that will mean taking the case to court and getting the whole thing thrown out.
When Not To Take The Deal
Ultimately, the choice to take a deal or not will end up depending on the facts of the case. If part of the prosecution’s case can clearly be rebutted, or if I believe (and can show) that your constitutional rights have been violated by the police or prosecution, then I might advise taking the case to trial.
Sometimes, the prosecution is hardheaded and refuses to acknowledge officer mistakes or wrongdoing. But when that wrongdoing is clear and provable, then you want to take the case to trial. Not because you want to go through the time and expense of a trial but because you can win, and when there is a strong opportunity for a win, there is no need to plead.
I will always be clear with my clients when such opportunities arise; after all, it would be a win for both of us. Nevertheless, such cases are rare – and certainly more so than television or movies would have us believe. More likely, the prosecution will acknowledge the weaknesses we find in their case, and they will help us obtain a more favorable plea. Though inevitably, the plea deal you are able to obtain will depend in part upon your past convictions.
One Crime, Two Plea Examples: First Vs. Second Offense Deals
As I discussed at the beginning of the chapter, past convictions have a massive impact on sentencing if you do get a conviction, which also means they play a large role in determining the plea deals available. Take, for example, two DUI offenders arrested with similar blood alcohol levels under similar circumstances. The only difference is that one has a past DUI conviction already.
Generally, prosecutors are fairly lenient on first-time offenders, though their generosity may depend on the court, and the exact details will vary with the charges. By accepting a plea, the first-time offender is likely to be able to get away with little to no jail time, very low fines, and probably a blemish on their record with a crime well below the original charge.
Now, when you’re a second-time offender, things become considerably more severe. For a second DUI, the prosecution is likely to insist you get some treatment. You are unlikely to get away with a mere evaluation that says no treatment is recommended. There might be substantial time in jail or a heftier fine, and it is unlikely you will be able to get the charge deviated or dropped.
The same trend holds true for other crimes. Even felonies, you might be able to get a first-time felony negotiated down to a misdemeanor with a first-time offender plea, but will find that almost impossible on your second or third. Which makes getting the first one dropped a vital priority. Meanwhile, for the most serious offenses and felonies, like rape, while you are unlikely to get the charge dismissed or dropped and will almost certainly do time, you are still more likely to get a favorable deal on your first offense plea than any afterward.
For more information on The Impact Of Your Past Record On A Criminal Case, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (425) 276-7390 today.