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Indianapolis Criminal & OWI Lawyers > Blog > Criminal Defense > 5 Reasons A Judge May Reject A Plea Bargain

5 Reasons A Judge May Reject A Plea Bargain


When the Defendant and prosecution negotiate and agree on how to resolve a criminal case, it is what’s known as a plea bargain or plea agreement. Plea agreements take many shapes and forms, and any term in an agreement can be negotiated, if the parties are willing to do so.  Some agreements are what’s known as “set term,” meaning that all or nearly all the terms are decided for the Judge.  Other plea agreements may leave the terms of the sentence largely open to the Court, but the parties agree to change the range of penalties the Judge may impose.  But while there are different types of plea bargains, a plea deal is only binding once a judge has approved it. And there are many reasons why a judge would reject a plea bargain. Below we look at five reasons a judge may reject a plea bargain.

#1: The Plea Bargain Is Too Lenient

A judge may reject a plea bargain if they find it too lenient. This is fairly rare, because Judges tend to trust that the attorneys for the State and the Defendant both understand the relative strength of the case and have negotiated their deal fairly.  Nonetheless, a Judge will occasionally reject a plea agreement because it doesn’t contain a term they require as part of a plea to a particular crime.  For example, most Judges will require an alcohol evaluation and successful completion of treatment as part of a plea agreement for OWI.  If the parties attempted to tender a plea agreement that didn’t have that term, the Judge may reject it.

#2: The Victim or their family disapproves of the plea agreement

If a victim or the victim’s family (in a murder case, for example) indicates that they disapprove of the plea agreement, the Judge may decide to reject the agreement.  The law does not require the Judge to reject the agreement because of victim disapproval, and it is potentially an abuse of discretion to do so, but some judges may consider it and refuse to approve a plea bargain for that reason anyway.

#3: The Defendant fails to provide a factual basis

In Indiana, the Court cannot accept a plea agreement if the Defendant subsequently refuses to plead guilty and admit that he or she committed a crime.  Even if the Defendant signs all the paperwork and accepts the penalty described in the agreement, the Defendant still must admit they committed the crime to which they are pleading.  This occurs during the guilty plea hearing, where a factual basis is recited by either the prosecutor, the Judge, or by questioning of the Defendant by his attorney.  If the Defendant denies that he committed the offense, the plea agreement is rejected and the matter is reset for trial.

#4: The Defendant Has a Lengthy Criminal Record

A judge may reject a plea deal if the Defendant has a significant criminal history. A judge may view someone with a lengthy criminal record as deserving of a more serious sentence because they have repeatedly shown that they cannot abide by the law.

#5: The Deal Is Not What’s Best for the Community

Judges consider whether a plea deal is what is best for the community before accepting it. If, for instance, a defendant has a history of violent behavior, a judge may reject a plea bargain because of the potential risk it poses to the community.

Contact Rigney Law LLC Today

If you are facing criminal charges and have received a plea offer from the prosecutor, you should not accept the offer before speaking to a defense attorney. A qualified Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer at Rigney Law LLC can analyze the plea offer and advise you accordingly.



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