Contrary to popular belief, most criminal cases in Florida don’t end up in the courtroom; they’re often resolved via plea agreements. Plea bargains are an agreement between the offender and the prosecution on the terms of the conviction – without any involvement from the presiding judge.
Usually, the judge will only step in at the end of the process to sign off on the arrangement. However, many people believe judges should have a more active role in plea bargaining and negotiations to ensure that defendants and prosecutors reach just agreements and prevent extremely harsh undeserved sentences.
How Plea bargains work
There are two primary types of plea bargains in Florida: guilty plea and nolo contendere plea. For a guilty plea, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a charge or charges in exchange for lenient punishment from the prosecution. In a Nolo contendere plea, also known as “no contest,” the defendant, through the advice of their criminal defense attorney, neither admits guilt nor denies it. Instead, he or she pleads “no contest” and accepts whatever sentence the prosecutor and the judge see fit.
Role of judges in plea bargaining
In Florida, the judge must review and approve any plea agreement that reaches his or her court. Judges must consider the facts of the case and both parties’ positions before deciding whether or not to accept the deal. In some cases, they may reject a plea bargain if they believe the sentence should be harsher or more lenient.
Given their authority and understanding of criminal law, judges should actively participate in plea bargaining negotiations to ensure fair agreements between the defendant and the prosecutor. Without judicial oversight, there’s a risk that defendants could get overly harsh sentences or that prosecutors could abuse their power by pushing for high sentences.