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Misdemeanor Compromise

As criminal courts become more crowded, prosecutors and judges feel increased pressure to move cases quickly through the system. Trials can take days, weeks or sometimes months, while guilty pleas can often be arranged in minutes. Also, the outcome of any given trial is usually unpredictable -- but a misdemeanor compromise or plea bargain provides both prosecution and defense with some control over the result. For most defendants, the principal benefit of plea bargaining is receiving a lighter sentence for a less-severe charge than might result from taking the case to trial and losing. 

In addition, defendants who are represented by private counsel can save on attorney fees by accepting a plea bargain. It almost always takes more time and effort to bring a case to trial than to negotiate and handle a plea bargain. Those who either do not have the right to bail or cannot afford bail, or who do not qualify for release on their own recognizance -- may get out of jail immediately following the judge's acceptance of a plea. Depending on the offense, the defendant may get out altogether, on probation, with or without some community service obligations. Or, the defendant may have to serve more time but will still get out much sooner than if he or she insisted on going to trial. Going to trial usually requires a much longer wait -- and causes much more stress -- than taking a plea bargain.

Having fewer or less-serious offenses on one's record. Pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduction in the number of charges or the seriousness of the offenses looks a lot better on a defendant's record than the convictions that might result following trial. This can be particularly important if the defendant is ever convicted in the future. For example, a second conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) may carry mandatory jail time, whereas if the first DUI offense had been bargained down to reckless driving, there may be no jail time for the "second" DUI.

Even for people who are never rearrested, getting a charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, or from a felony that constitutes a strike under a "three strikes" law to one that doesn't, can prove to be a critical benefit. Some professional licenses must be forfeited upon conviction of a felony. Future employers may not want to hire someone previously convicted of a felony. Felony convictions may be used in certain court proceedings (even civil cases) to discredit people who testify as witnesses. Felons can't own or possess firearms. And, in many jurisdictions, felons can't vote. The benefits of compromise include:

Having a less socially stigmatizing offense on one's record:

  • Prosecutors may reduce charges that are perceived as socially offensive to less-offensive charges in exchange for a guilty plea. For example, a prosecutor may reduce a molestation or rape case to an assault. This can have a major impact on the defendant's relationship with friends and family. Perhaps even more critical, sometimes defendants convicted of stigmatizing offenses may be at a greater risk of being harmed (or killed) in prison than if they are convicted of an offense that doesn't carry the same stigma.

Avoiding hassles:

  • Some people plead guilty -- especially to routine, minor first offenses -- without hiring a lawyer. If they waited to go to trial, they would have to find a good lawyer and spend both time and money preparing for trial.

Avoiding publicity:

  • Famous people, ordinary people who depend on their reputation in the community to earn a living, and people who don't want to bring further embarrassment to their families all may chose to plead guilty or no contest to keep their names out of the public eye. While news of the plea itself may be public, the news is short-lived compared to news of a trial. And rarely is a defendant's background explored in the course of a plea bargain to the extent it may be done at trial.

Keeping others out of the case:

  • Some defendants plead guilty to take the blame (sometimes called the "rap") for someone else, or to end the case quickly so that others who may be jointly responsible are not investigated.

Judges' and Prosecutors' Incentives for Accepting Plea Bargains:
  • For a judge, the primary incentive for accepting a plea bargain is to move along a crowded calendar. Most judges simply don't have time to try every case that comes through the door. Additionally, because jails are overcrowded, judges may face the prospect of having to release convicted people before they complete their sentences. Judges often reason that using plea bargains to "process out" offenders who are not likely to do much jail time leads to fewer problems with overcrowding.

  • For a prosecutor, the judge's concerns about a clogged calendar are the prosecutor's concerns as well. And prosecutors are concerned about their own calendars. Crowded calendars mean that the prosecutor's staff is overworked. Because plea bargains are much quicker and require less work than trials, they are also easier on the prosecutor's budget.

A defendant accused of a misdemeanor or petty offense, who injures someone by the act constituting the offense, may be able to compromise the charge. This requires the injured party to appear before the court prior to trial, and acknowledge that he or she has received satisfaction for the injury. The court may then order the prosecution dismissed.

Typically, offenses: (1) committed by or upon any officer of justice while in the execution of the duties of his office; (2) committed riotously; (3) committed with intent to commit a felony, and (4) involving an act of assault, threatening or intimidating or a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence cannot be compromised.

A victim may choose to enter an agreement with a defendant, or the defendantís attorney, in which the victim recommends that the charges against the defendant be dismissed.  This generally occurs after the defendant has reimbursed the victim for any economic loss, or because a victim does not wish to prosecute.  A victimís decision to enter a compromise is strictly voluntary and should not be entered into until compensation has been received. The victim must sign a misdemeanor compromise before a Notary Public upon providing picture identification. The signed and notarized form is reviewed by a prosecutor and forwarded to a judge who makes the final decision.

Criminal Charges That Can Be Dismissed With a Misdemeanor Compromise:

  • The only criminal charges that may be dismissed by this means are assault, criminal trespass, biting dog, threats, disorderly conduct, shoplifting, theft and criminal damage. All charges with a domestic-violence prefix are excluded from this list (ex. DV-assault).  After a victim completes the misdemeanor compromise paperwork, a prosecutor reviews the severity of the charges and the judge makes the final decision for or against dismissal of the defendantís charges.  

Civil Charges That Can Be Dismissed With a Misdemeanor Compromise:

  • If you strike another vehicle and cause damage, the owner/driver of the vehicle may be willing to sign a compromise if you compensate them either directly or through their insurance company. If the court dismisses your civil traffic citation after receiving a compromise, there is no fine and no points appear on your Motor Vehicle Division driving record for that charge. You must first obtain a copy of the traffic accident report from the Police Department. When the owner and driver of the vehicle are different people, each must sign a compromise form

If you need to discuss your case with a lawyer or you have a question call The Sheena Law Firm today.

Danny M. Sheena, P.E.

The Sheena Law Firm
2500 West Loop South, Suite 518
Houston, Texas 77027
(713) 224-6508 - Office
(713) 225-1560 - Fax

Email: [email protected]


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