Can An Indiana Judge Reject A Plea Agreement?
Most criminal cases never make it to a jury trial. Instead, it is common for the prosecution and the defendant to enter into a plea bargain or plea agreement of some kind. For example, the prosecution might agree to reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor in exchange for a guilty plea. Both sides might also then agree upon the terms of sentence.
Plea bargaining can expedite the administration of justice and places the defendant in a more certain position than would the risk of a trial. But the agreement between the parties doesn’t necessarily resolve the case. Under Indiana law, the judge has the final say when it comes to accepting or rejecting a plea agreement.
Indiana Woman Receives 8 Years of House Arrest After Judge Rejected Initial Plea Bargain
Judges rejecting plea bargains happen more often than you might think. For instance, in November 2022 an Elkhart County, Indiana, judge rejected a plea agreement in a felony arson case. The state initially charged the defendant with helping her boyfriend in setting eight different barns on fire. The parties initially agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to one felony count of arson. But the agreement did not specify a sentencing recommendation and provided that any prison time that was not otherwise suspended would be served in a community corrections program.
The judge rejected this plea bargain because it didn’t require any jail time. Now, this did not mean the case proceeded to trial. Rather, the prosecution and the defense negotiated a new plea agreement, which is permissible under these circumstances. Under the revised agreement, which the court approved in January 2023, the defendant agreed to a 10-year sentence. The judge allowed the defendant to serve 8 of those 10 years under house arrest, with the remaining 2 suspended to probation.
In another recent case, Jabaay v. State, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a five-year prison sentence in a theft case. Prosecutors charged the defendant with stealing three packages of meat from a local Wal-Mart and driving a motor vehicle after his license had been suspended for life. The prosecutors agreed to dismiss the license charge in exchange for a guilty plea to Level 6 felony theft and a sentencing recommendation of two-and-a-half years in prison.
The trial court rejected the plea agreement. The defendant then agreed to plead guilty to both counts and allow the judge to determine the sentence. The court proceeded to sentence the defendant to 5 years in prison. In December 2022, the Indiana Court of Appeals held the sentence was appropriate given the nature of the offenses charged and the defendant’s prior criminal record.
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Negotiating a plea agreement can provide a degree of finality and certainty to a criminal prosecution. But you need to enter the process with your eyes open and remain aware of the potential risks and drawbacks of a negotiated plea. And you should never agree to any plea without first speaking with a qualified Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer. Contact Rigney Law LLC today to schedule a free consultation.