There are several stages of the proceedings where you may receive a plea offer. This is an offer in exchange for a plea of guilty. The prosecutor does not have to make an offer in any case. You do not have to take an offer in your case. You always have the right to go to trial.
In a district court case (a misdemeanor), it is likely that you will receive an offer on your first or second court date. If you have not spoken to an attorney, we recommend that you do not accept an offer. There are often hidden consequences of a guilty plea. It is best to speak to an attorney before accepting an offer and entering a plea of guilty. If you do not have a lawyer, you can ask the court for a public defender. If you have a lawyer and choose to accept the guilty plea, make sure that you understand all of the conditions of the plea.
When charged with a felony, your case will usually start in district court. While in district court, there is a chance that you will receive an offer to resolve your felony. This means that the prosecutor will amend the felony to a misdmeanor. If this happens, then there will be a misdemeanor on your criminal record. An advantage of taking a misdemeanor offer is that you will not risk a felony conviction. A disadvantage to taking an offer in district court is that you will not receive your discovery (the proof that the prosecution will try to use against you). Another disadvantage is that your attorney will not have time to fully investigate your case and file pretrial motions. Speak to your attorney about any misdemeanor offer that is made on your felony case.
Another way to resolve your felony case in district court is through the Rocket Docket. The rocket docket is where the felony prosecutors come to district court to make felony offers on felony cases that are set for a preliminary hearing. This means that you are agreeing to accept a felony offer once your case is heard in Circuit Court. If you accept a Rocket Docket offer, you will not have a preliminary hearing. You will not have your case presented to the Grand Jury. Instead, your case will go directly to Circuit Court where the prosecutor will expect you to take the offer that they extended by the prosecutor in district court. The theory behind Rocket Docket is that prosecutors will make better offers in exchange for resolving the case quickly. The problem with Rocket Docket is there is a lot of room for mistake when your attorney does not have the opportunity to receive discovery, file motions or conduct investigation. Speak with your attorney before accepting a Rocket Docket offer.
If you receive an offer on a misdemeanor or felony, sometimes the offer will be for probation. If you accept probation, make sure that you understand everything that is required of you while you are on probation. Some standard conditions include:
- Paying fines or restitution. This means that as a condition of your plea you have to pay money, or you could go to jail.
- Probation: probation can be supervised or unsupervised. Typically, a condition of probation is "no new arrests." This means that you cannot have any other arrests or charges while you are on probation. Typically speeding is not considered a "new arrest." If your probation is unsupervised, then you do not have to check in with a probation officer. If your probation is supervised, you will be required to check in with a probation officer. Make sure that you have the phone number, address and email address for your probation officer. You must make sure that you do everything required or the probation officer will tell the court that you are not following the rules. If the probation officer reports you to the court, you may be put in jail.
- Drug Screens: If drug screens are a condition of your guilty plea, remember that you cannot miss a screen, must be able to pay for the screen, cannot have a diluted screen (a screen that comes back that you have too much water in your urine) or a positive screen. If you are perscribed any medications, be sure to tell the person who is taking your screen and show them proof from your doctor. Be sure to tell your lawyer if you are on any perscribed medications before accepting a plea offer with the requirement of drug screens.
- Paying Restitution: Paying restitution to a harmed person is sometimes a condition of a guilty plea. Be sure that you know exactly how much is owed and how much you are expected to pay each month. Be sure to tell your lawyer if you do not think that you can pay the amount in the plea offer. Your lawyer may be able to negotiate lower payments. Be sure that you know exactly how you are supposed to pay your restituion.