So You Got Yourself Named in a Felony Warrant, Now What? 
Part II: To Plea or Not to Plea

A felony warrant turns your world upside down. Not only are your freedom and your future on the line – if it’s your first arrest, you’ll have no idea what to expect. This series will give you the basic information you’ll want to know if you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge in Nebraska.

In Part I, we covered your options once you learn of the warrant, and what to expect once you’re arrested.

Now, in Part II of our series, we look at the nitty gritty of plea bargains.

This is no Law & Order

You’ve seen it a million times on Law & Order: The district attorney stares with contempt at the “perp” shackled to the table and advises the defense attorney to tell her client to “take the deal.”

It’s great TV, but real life is a lot more boring. Generally, a plea comes during a phone call or email with the prosecutor’s office. Or, it can come right before or even during the trial. The “perp” usually isn’t in the room during the discussion between the lawyers.  Also, unlike Law & Order, it may be a year or more before the pre-trial work and negotiating is finished and the case is either resolved with a plea or goes to trial.

Three Things You Can Bargain For

On TV, the defense lawyer and the prosecutor usually argue over sentencing, but there is a lot more room for negotiation. It depends on the case, but defense attorneys and prosecutors can negotiate any or all of the following:

  1. The charges:  This is the most common plea bargain. The prosecutor agrees to reduce the number of charges or the severity of the charges, usually in exchange for a guilty plea.
  2. The time you’ll do: This one you’re probably familiar with. It’s where the prosecutor agrees to a lesser sentence than the defendant could face. Sometimes on TV, they combine charge bargaining and sentence bargaining. This can happen in real life too. However, the sentence is up to the judge. The prosecutor can recommend a certain term, so long as it’s within the parameters of Nebraska law, but in the end, the sentence is always up to the court.
  3. The facts: On rare occasions, the defense attorney may be able to negotiate that the defendant will admit to certain facts to keep others from being introduced to the court. This is rare in Douglas County, Nebraska because the judge generally will see the entire police report as part of the report that is conducted prior to sentencing (known as a pre-sentence investigation report, or PSI), and will consider all the facts when sentencing.

Additionally, there are things you can do to help your plea bargain, like drug and alcohol treatment, counseling, or compensating the victim for the losses they suffered because of the crime. We will cover this more in-depth later in the series when we talk about sentencing

So should you take the deal? 

After I get the offer from the prosecutor, I relay it to my client with my advice regarding the pros and cons of accepting the deal. Sometimes it takes some legal wrangling to figure out exactly what evidence the prosecution will be able to actually get in at trial – which affects my advice to clients as to whether or not they should try to reach a plea agreement. No matter what, the decision as to whether to accept it is always up to the client.

A bargain isn’t a guarantee

Even if the defendant, his or her attorney, and the prosecutor’s office reach an agreement, it isn’t a done deal until the court accepts it. That depends on whether the defendant is able to and in fact makes a knowing, voluntary waiver of his or her rights, and whether there is a factual basis to support the charges to which the defendant is entering a plea. If these conditions are met, the sentence is ultimately up to the judge and Nebraska law.

Get help early

The best thing you can do if you are accused of a felony or any crime, is to get experienced legal help from the very beginning. My power to negotiate as a lawyer can be lessened if my client has done something to damage his or her negotiating power before I come on to the case.

If you need help with a felony or other criminal matter, contact Hightower Reff online, or call us at 402-932-9550.

Next Time in the Series

Watch for Part III of our felony arrest series – What to Expect When You’re Expecting… to go to Trial.

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.