Friday, February 2, 2007

PLEADING GUILTY: Sometimes it pays to balk

Some lawyers say that the best results are often in the deals we cut, not the trial results. But what about the plea bargain our clients agree to, but back out on at the last moment? Two experiences of mine illustrate that some clients can really get lucky.

One client of mine a couple of years ago was on trial for Burglary. He was enhanced from a prior conviction and he was facing substantial prison time if convicted. At trial, the prosecution had a difficult time matching his driver's license signature with the pawn slip signature on the stolen goods that were pawned 30 minutes after the burglary. After 5 hours of jury deliberation, the prosecution offered a misdemeanor sentence which would have meant 2 more months in the county jail. The client hesitantly accepted, and I completed the paperwork.

Upon appearing in front of the judge, he couldn't bring himself to speak the word guilty. The judge voided the deal and sent the inmate back to the holding cell. After a discussion with my client on the merits of completing his agreement, he was allowed to re-emerge and began the process again. However, the alleged victim, wanting to be present, was off having a cigarette. We waited 20 minutes. When the victim arrived, the plea began.

After the admonishments and his plea of guilty, the judge began the sentencing. At that moment, the bailiff informed the judge the jury had reached a verdict. The prosecution requested the plea cease and the verdict be read. At that moment, I thought my client had wasted an opportunity to resolve his case and was facing anywhere from 5-20 years in prison. The jury came back Not Guilty.

About the same time, I had represented a man accused with his 3rd DWI along with enhancements making him habitual offender with a punishment range of 25-life. After doing the discovery, including video tapes, I negotiated an 8 year TDC sentence with his permission. He accepted and I completed the paperwork.

Upon appearing in front of the Judge, he then renounced the agreement and requested a jury trial. He was then placed on the jury docket. Meanwhile, the Court of Criminal Appeals interpreted the 10-year rule (abolished since) to mean that each DWI conviction had to fall within 10 years of each other used for enhancement. Because my client's first DWI was 17 years before the second, the DWI charged was effectively a Class A Misdemeanor. He appeared for trial and he plead to the Misdemeanor and went home. Had he not hesitated to agree to the deal, he may still in prison.

Lucky? Perhaps. But it just shows you, justice comes in various forms.

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