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Can a Judge Actually Reject My Plea Bargain?

Although high-profile criminal trials get a lot of attention, in reality it is rare for any criminal case to make it that far. According to the federal government’s own statistics, roughly 97% of all federal prosecutions end in a plea bargain of some sort. A plea bargain is basically an agreement between the prosecution and the defendant. The government may agree to charge the defendant with a lesser offense–say a misdemeanor instead of a felony–or agree to a joint recommendation regarding a sentence. In exchange, the defendant waives their right to a trial, and usually to appeal.

Federal Judge Rejects 15 to 21-Year Sentence in Child Pornography Case

Just because the prosecution and the defense agree to a plea bargain, does that mean the court is obligated to accept it? The answer is no. In any criminal case, the judge retains the final say over the disposition. Judges actually have substantial discretion to review and reject a plea agreement. The judge may decide a sentencing recommendation is too light given the gravity of the charges. Ultimately, any agreement between the prosecution and defense is not binding on the court itself.

For example, a federal judge in Greenbelt, Maryland, recently rejected a plea agreement in a child pornography case. Prosecutors charged the defendant, a dual U.S.-Irish citizen, with operating a so-called darknet web hosting service that contained “more than 8.5 million images and videos of child pornography,” according to the Capital Gazette.

The United States Attorney’s office eventually reached a plea agreement with the defendant that recommended a prison sentence of 15 to 21 years. U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang, however, rejected the deal. He said he was “inclined” to give the defendant a longer sentence for his crimes. The judge also objected to the U.S. Attorney’s failure to credit the defendant for the six years he already spent in jail awaiting resolution of his case. The judge noted that if you properly credited that time, the maximum sentence under the plea deal would be 15 years–a sentence the court considered far too lenient.

When the Court Says “No” to a Plea Agreement

So, what happens when a judge rejects a plea bargain? In most cases, like the one described above, the agreement is no longer binding on the defendant. This means the defendant is free to withdraw their plea and proceed to trial. The defendant and the government could also attempt to renegotiate the plea in order to make the terms more acceptable to the court.

It is also important to note that even when a judge accepts a plea bargain, the court may still retain jurisdiction over any conditions related to the defendant’s sentence. For instance, if a plea bargain includes a term of probation, the court may still retain the right to send the defendant to prison if they fail to meet any of the terms of that probation.

Contact Southern Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.