By Alexis Doree |
What to Know Before Signing a Plea Agreement in North Dakota
Depending on your situation, if you are charged with a crime in North Dakota, there are a few different ways in which your case may be resolved. One of the most common resolutions is a plea agreement. This is an agreement made between the prosecutor and the defendant (typically through their attorney) where the defendant pleads guilty (or not guilty in certain instances) in exchange for a lesser charge or a reduced sentence. A court is not allowed to participate in these discussions. If the defendant pleads guilty to either a charged offense or a lesser or related offense, the plea agreement may specify that the prosecutor will:
a. Not bring other charges, or will move to dismiss other charges;
b. Recommend, or agree not to oppose the defendant’s request to a particular sentence; or
c. Agree that a certain sentence or sentencing range is the appropriate disposition of the case.
The incentive behind a plea agreement is to avoid the possibility of harsher penalties that the defendant may receive if they take their case to trial. It also saves both the prosecution and the defendant the time and costs of taking the case to trial, as well as the possible negative publicity that a trial could hold for the defendant.
When a plea agreement is offered to the court, the court has three options:
1) to accept it, 2) reject it, or 3) defer a decision until the court has reviewed the presentness report. If the court accepts the plea agreement, it is required to inform the defendant that the agreed disposition will be included in the judgment. If the court rejects it, the court must, in open court, inform the parties that it has been rejected, personally advise the defendant that it is not required to follow the plea agreement and allow the defendant an opportunity to withdraw the plea. Furthermore, the court must personally advise the defendant that if the plea is not withdrawn, the court may make a decision that is less favorable toward the defendant than the plea agreement contemplated.
For a court to accept a plea agreement, it must ensure the following:
1. That the Defendant is addressed personally in open court and that the defendant fully understands they have the following rights:
a. The right to plead not guilty, or having already so pleaded, to persist in that plea;
b. The right to a jury trial;
c. The right to be represented by counsel at every stage of the proceeding and, if necessary, the right to have counsel provided under Rule 44;
d. The right at trial to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, to be protected from compelled self-incrimination, to testify and present evidence, and to compel the attendance of witnes
e. The waiver of these trial rights if the guilty plea is accepted;
f. The nature of each charge;
g. Any maximum or minimum penalty, including imprisonment, fine, and mandatory fee;
h. Any mandatory minimum penalty;
i. The court’s authority to order restitution; and
j. That, if convicted, a defendant who is not a United States citizen may be removed from the United States, denied citizenship, and denied admission to the United States in the future.
2. That the plea is voluntary. The court must determine that the plea did not result from force, threats, or promises other than the promises laid out in the plea agreement. The court must also determine whether the defendant’s willingness to plead guilty results from discussions between the prosecutor and the defendant or the defendant’s attorney.
3. That there is a factual basis for the plea.
4. Lastly, that the defendant acknowledges one of two things: 1) there are facts/evidence exist that support the guilty plea or 2) that while maintaining innocence, they acknowledge that the guilty plea is knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made by the defendant and that evidence exists from which the trier of fact could reasonably conclude that the defendant committed the crime.
A defendant may withdraw a guilty plea for any reason before the court accepts the plea. If the court has already accepted the plea but has not yet imposed a sentence, the defendant may still withdraw a guilty plea if the court rejects the plea under Rule 11(c)(5) or if the defendant can show a fair and just reason for the withdrawal. It’s important to note that unless the defendant can prove that the withdrawal is necessary to correct an injustice, they may not withdraw a guilty plea after the court has imposed a sentence. The court is also free to deny a defendant’s withdrawal request if it finds that the prosecution heavily relied on the defendant’s plea and has been substantially prejudiced by the withdrawal.
If you are facing a criminal charge, it may be in your best interests to contact an experienced attorney so they can help you through the difficult process and ensure that you fully understand your rights and the implications of every possible outcome.
*The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only. This information is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as so.