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Arizona Criminal Defendants Should Know What They Are Giving Up When Pleading Guilty

Any experienced Arizona criminal defense attorney knows that not every case can be won. Or, better put, “winning” a case does not always mean that a client was found not guilty. In some cases, the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, perhaps due to a post-arrest admission given by the defendant. In other situations, a defendant does not want to put themselves and their loved ones through the stress of a criminal trial. Because of these realities, plea bargains are not uncommon in Arizona criminal cases.

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense under which the defendant will plead guilty, usually for a negotiated sentence. In some cases, a defendant may choose to “open plea,” in which case there are no negotiations, and the defendant places complete discretion in the judge’s hands. Typically, an open guilty plea would be appropriate when the offer made by the prosecution was unreasonable, or there are significant mitigating circumstances warranting a lesser sentence.

Pleading guilty, however, is an important decision that should only be made after careful discussion with an Arizona criminal defense attorney. By entering a guilty plea, a defendant gives up almost all of their pre and post trial rights. And after the sentence is imposed, there is very rarely an opportunity to have the finding of guilt or sentence reviewed by a higher court.

In a recent appellate decision, an Arizona court upheld what would have been an illegal sentence had it been imposed by the court absent the defendant’s agreement. In that case, the defendant was arrested and charged with murder, child abuse, and committing dangerous crimes against children. If she was convicted of the murder charge, the defendant could be sentenced to life in prison. In addition, the child abuse charge could result in up to an additional consecutive 28-year sentence.

Pursuant to a plea agreement, the defendant pled guilty to manslaughter and reckless child abuse. The charges carried a possibility of 7 to 21 years, and 2 to 8.75 years, respectively. However, the agreement was that the defendant would serve 8 to 15 years for the manslaughter charge and a consecutive term of probation for the child-abuse charge.

In 2010, the defendant completed her prison sentence and was placed on probation. The defendant violated probation several times in 2014, 2016, and 2017. During the 2017 revocation hearing, the judge sentenced the defendant to 3.5 years incarceration. The defendant appealed her sentence arguing that her original sentence was illegal because “the charges constituted a single act involving a single victim.” Specifically, the defendant argued that the court was wrong to order the sentences for her two charges run consecutively, rather than concurrently.

On appeal, the court did not consider the merits of the defendant’s argument that the sentences should have been ordered to run concurrently. The court reasoned that the plaintiff “invited” any potential error because she was involved in the negotiation process and accepted the plea agreement. The court noted that the defendant bargained for this specific sentence, and avoided a potential life sentence. Thus, the court dismissed the defendant’s appeal.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested for a crime in Arizona, contact Attorney James E. Novak. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney with extensive experience defending clients who have been charged with serious felony offenses, including assault charges, burglary charges, and Arizona domestic violence cases. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Novak, call 480-413-1499 today.

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