During an initial arraignment and bond hearing for a federal drug case in DC, there are two pleas available that an individual or their attorney may make: guilty or not guilty. Almost every time, the attorney will enter a plea of not guilty at the initial arraignment due to the fact that it is still so early in the case and there likely no benefit to pleading guilty right away. If a plea bargain is reached or there are other factors, a plea may be changed to guilty at a later date. The initial plea, however, will almost always be not guilty.
There is an extensive analysis that must take place before someone can be in a position to make the decision as whether or not plead guilty in a federal case.
First, an analysis of the law that is applied to the facts that are discovered as well as an analysis of the laws that apply to the information provided by the government must be undertaken. There must be extensive discussions between the defense attorney and the defendant about where the defendant stands in the case, what the state of the evidence is, the likelihood of success, and the components of the plea offer.
Sometimes the person is offered a deal that does not make sense to take, because if they lose at trial, they will not have more serious consequences than they would with a guilty plea. Thus, there is nothing to lose by going to trial. However, there are also other considerations such as the person’s prior criminal record, their family situation, and how much a person will have to pay. The full restitution or the property that they must forfeit can also play a role.
Above all, how much time the accused is facing in jail on the guilty plea versus the worst case scenario if they lose at trial is a very important consideration. All of those factors must be taken into account before the attorney can give their professional opinion as to what the client should do.
In almost all situations a person will conduct a plea bargain with their lawyer. It is possible primarily because the prosecutors will gain far too much insight into the defendant’s thinking during plea discussions if the accused is engaging them personally.
It is important to have someone who has experience in plea bargaining and in dealing with the prosecutor. The attorney should be experienced in assembling the separate strands of the investigations, the law, the government’s discovery, what the defendant has said, and develop a proposed plan as to what to do.
If the plan is to try to negotiate a resolution of the case, it is imperative to have someone who knows what they are doing on your side.