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Life-Changing Consequences: Learn the Different Types of Pleas in a Courtroom and Their Consequences

By June 29, 2023August 25th, 2023Criminal Defense

What you need to know about plea deals before you enter the courtroom

I am Jeff Hampton with the Hampton Law Firm. Welcome to our YouTube channel today. I want to talk to you about the life-changing consequences of a plea deal. Many people walk into a courtroom they have not even thought about what they are about to do to resolve their criminal case. Today I want to go through it A to Z and talk to you a little bit about what to expect so that you are not caught off guard. By the way if you wait around to the end of this video, I will also provide you a free eBook “what to do if you’ve been charged with a crime in Texas.”

I want to start by answering the question is there a difference between a guilty plea and a Guilty Plea vs No-Contest Plea?

First of all, if you do a plea of guilty before a judge or a jury, however you choose to resolve your case, a plea of guilty means you are convicted. Most likely a judge either at the mercy of the judge, or the mercy of a jury or in that situation you have an agreed plea.

We are going to talk about several types of pleas. We know what a guilty plea is you are throwing yourself at the mercy of the resolution of the case but what about a no contest plea? A no contest plea many people think, well if I plead to no contest then I’m not I mean they’re not going to be convicted or I never really pled to it. The reality of it is judges will hear no contest as essentially saying, I plead to the arrangement and I agree to the deal that we have in front of us today and a judge will say, “how do you plead to this case guilty or not guilty.” If you say no contest the judge will say, “I’ll find that there is sufficient evidence to find you guilty I’ll accept your plea of no contest” and they’ll still sentence you either way.

It’s important to understand the difference between a guilty plea and a no contest plea. Now I want to talk about two primary ways when you start discussing plea deals. You can do what’s called an open plea to the jury.  An open plea to the jury would mean that you’re in a jury trial you stand up and you say that you’re guilty of this crime and then the jury gets to determine your sentence which then would move into the punishment phase of that jury trial and that’s a rare thing and very rarely happens in trial.

I want to spend most of our time now talking about an open plea to a judge. Here you would be doing a plea to a judge where you expose yourself to the full range of punishment. Most people look at that and say why would you ever do that? why would someone even consider doing an open plea to a judge? Well, one of the reasons that you could come up with and I’ll come up with a few of these where you see people use this frequently. Maybe the prosecutor is making an offer that’s completely unreasonable.

For instance, let’s consider a scenario where you are charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and the prosecutor offers you a 20-year prison sentence, which is the maximum term in Texas for this offense. Given that it’s the maximum term, you definitely wouldn’t accept the prosecutor’s offer. However, there might be circumstances where both the attorney and the client don’t believe that going to trial would be in their best interest. It could be due to potential prejudicial factors in the local area, such as negative press or other issues that could impact the trial outcome. This raises concerns about how a jury might perceive the case. Now, it’s crucial to note that depending on your judge, you should never enter into an open plea situation without an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the judge and has a good understanding of how the process may unfold. Here’s an important point to consider: judges sometimes make decisions that a jury would never make, and certainly not something a prosecutor would do.

You can find examples of this phenomenon, and one such example is the cases involving juveniles. Take, for instance, the Ethan Couch case from several years ago, where he received a certain outcome as a juvenile from a judge. Although that situation was distinct due to his status as a juvenile, it helps illustrate the point. There are numerous instances where a judge can approach the case with a potentially more objective perspective compared to a jury. Juries can be swayed by media coverage or external factors unrelated to the specific crime. Therefore, it becomes crucial for your criminal defense attorney to consider this aspect and for you to assess whether it could be advantageous in your situation.

Let’s discuss the mechanics of how an open plea to a judge works in adult Criminal Court. When you appear before the judge, you will enter a plea of guilty or no contest. Following that, the judge would typically allow you to proceed with a pre-sentence investigation, often referred to as a PSI, which is common in Texas. But how does a pre-sentence investigation function? Essentially, it provides the judge with a comprehensive understanding of the person pleading guilty or no contest, including their background and history. This involves a thorough interview process.

In fact, you would go and do an interview with a PSI officer that can take hours. There have been many interviews that have taken eight hours, literally the entire day. They want to know past history – they want to know good things that you’ve done – they want to know challenges that you’ve been through, your background, your history, your upbringing, your social environment –  all these things go into consideration.

One of the things that depending on who you’re dealing with and what county you’re in that many times some of these PSI officers can actually be pretty fair about how they write these things up and they can give a picture of taking a look at who the individual is and not just immediately judging them. Now here’s the thing, a PSI (pre-sense investigation) can show all the positives and all the good things that someone’s done but be careful, it can also show all the negatives because at the end of that PSI there’s going to be a conclusion that will list whether someone’s a high risk to reoffend or whether someone might be a good candidate for probation.

Presentence investigations are usually performed within the context of prosecutors offering prison. You obviously don’t want prison but you’re concerned about how the jury might turn around on that and so as a result of that a pre-sentence investigation could conclude that looking at the individual by itself considering the facts of the case this person may be a good candidate for probation. As a result of that, this isn’t a situation where an open plea to a judge with a presentence investigation can be helpful and so here’s the way it works – let’s say you do the investigation, the presentence investigation report is put together and now your criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor get to review that report but more importantly your criminal attorney can actually go through it, sit down with you and make sure that this thing is done properly and that there are no errors. We want to make sure that there’s no errors in that report and then that report can be provided to the judge ahead of time so that the judge can make a good decision about whether or not you should end up receiving some type of probation as a result or incarceration as a result.

What Happens At A Sentencing Hearing?

At the sentencing hearing here’s what happens. Once the presentence investigation report is put together, you now have a sentencing hearing in front of the judge where you can call witnesses, you can further elaborate on information that’s within that report, you can provide medical records and other type of information in context where sometimes there’s a little bit more latitude of being able to share that information with the judge and quite frankly, some of the prosecutors don’t fight quite as much for the judge to be able to see that information.

Everything comes with a risk. This is a terrible idea do consider this option in front of certain judges and this is why it’s so important that your criminal attorney knows what they’re doing because there are some judges it would be a horrible idea to go open to them for anything. Some of these small counties in Texas and quite frankly some of the judges locally in the north Texas area just choose to see things very much from a black and white political perspective of just saying it doesn’t matter really what it is, a lot of times they will give very harsh sentences so it’s really important that you analyze this on a case-by-case basis with your situation.

Remember, these decisions are life-altering, but we want to provide you with an opportunity to consider various ways of resolving a case. Now, let’s discuss an agreed plea. We have previously discussed an open plea, an open plea to a jury, an open plea to a judge, and conducting a pre-sentence investigation. An agreed plea, on the other hand, occurs when your defense attorney negotiates directly with the prosecutor, and all parties reach a resolution in your case. Everyone involved gathers to review and sign the plea paperwork. Then, you stand before the judge who asks if you plead guilty or not guilty to the offense. At this point, you enter a plea of guilty before the judge. The judge will inform you that they are not bound by your plea, but most often, they honor the agreement between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. However, if the judge does not follow your plea, you have the option to start over and renegotiate. It’s important to note that one potential issue that can catch people off guard is the terms of probation. When negotiating with your defense attorney, exercise caution and carefully consider aspects such as the duration of probation.

Sit down with your criminal defense lawyer and define the classes or some of the requirements but don’t forget that everyone can agree on The Plea but you cannot agree on the terms and condition of that probation. Why? Because, particularly in the north Texas area, what tends to happen is judges will say here’s what we’re going to do, you’re now going to go over after you’ve done your plea and you’re going to go over to probation and they’re going to do an interview with you you’re going to do what’s called a TAIP assessment. You’re going to do an assessment to determine whether or not there are certain additional conditions that may be appropriate for you. What do we mean by that? The judge will want to see this assessment to determine your risk profile – do you have a history of drug abuse? Do you have a history of alcohol abuse? Do you have some issues with anger management? Maybe you need an anger management class. Maybe you’ve got some other issues that are going on so one of the things that you need to be careful when you sign your plea deal, even if it’s an agreed plea, one of the documents that’s usually required for you to sign will say specifically that the there is a list of other potential things that you could do as a part of your probation.

Now, for the most part, you would not have to do most of the things on that list. However, there have been instances where people have become very upset. I have witnessed it many times in the courtroom when their attorney failed to inform them, “Hey, listen, the judge will determine your terms and conditions.” Suddenly, during their probation exit interview, they discover a slew of requirements that were never mentioned in the plea paperwork. It is crucial to be aware that, when entering into an agreed plea for probation, the judge has the authority to modify the terms and conditions based on your tape assessment. Furthermore, they can make further adjustments throughout your probation if any issues arise. So why do I mention all of this? Well, it is important to understand the distinctions between these plea options. You should know whether you are entering a plea of guilty or no contest and how that affects your situation. You should also be aware of the implications of an open plea, as it is a decision that significantly impacts your life. Lastly, it is essential to know precisely what you are getting into if you are entering into an agreed plea involving you, your defense attorney, and the prosecution. You want to have a clear understanding and avoid any surprises.

Now, listen. I hope this video was helpful to you. I now want to give you a free eBook: “What to Do if You’ve Been Charged with a Crime in Texas.” All you have to do is click down into the body of this YouTube video, and you’ll see a link there. If you leave your email, we’ll be glad to send that over to you. And by the way, if you like what you’ve heard here today, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like this video, and I’ll send you more content just like this. I look forward to seeing you on our next video series.