Negotiating a plea agreement with a maximum sentence cap can get a federal drug sentence reduced, reports Dallas drug lawyer John Helms.
In a prior blog post the four primary ways of getting a sentence reduction in federal drug cases were covered by Dallas drug lawyer John Helms:
- Cooperate with the government.
- Negotiate a plea to a charge with a lower mandatory minimum sentence.
- Negotiate a plea agreement with a maximum sentence cap.
- Invoke the “safety valve” provision of 18 USC Section 3553(f).
This post is will go into detail about negotiating a plea agreement.
As most of the best drug attorneys in Dallas can tell you, plea bargaining in federal criminal cases is very different from plea bargaining in state court criminal cases in Texas. In state court, a defendant can choose to have either a jury or a judge decide the sentence at trial, so plea bargains usually include an agreed upon sentence. State judges are not literally required to comply with the plea agreement, but they rarely refuse to accept them.
Federal court is different. A judge ALWAYS decides what the sentence will be. A plea agreement with an agreed sentence is not favored by federal judges because it takes away some of their power to decide the sentence. For this reason, the Justice Department puts serious limits on a prosecutor’s ability to agree to a specific sentence in a plea agreement. Plea agreements with an agreed upon sentence do happen, but they are rare.
One thing you CAN do in plea bargaining in a federal case is to ask for an agreed “cap” on the sentence. This means the plea agreement says that the LONGEST sentence the defendant can get is, for example, 20 years. A judge still has to approve this type of plea agreement, but they are more likely to approve a “cap” than an agreed sentence.
Caps are especially useful when there is uncertainty over the Federal Sentencing Guideline range or when the defendant is looking at a fairly lengthy sentence so that a prosecutor does not mind capping it at a length the prosecutor believes is reasonable, even if the prosecutor’s case is very strong, adds Dallas drug lawyer Helms.
It is usually relatively easy to ask for a cap during plea bargaining, and I have used this concept successfully many times.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a federal drug offense or are facing other drug charges, contact Dallas drug lawyer John Helms immediately. Call 214-666-8010