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Settlement Offers: Plea Bargains & Plea Agreements

A settlement offer (often called a "plea bargain" or "plea agreement") is an offer between the prosecuting attorney and your criminal defense lawyer regarding the formal charges alleged against you. The offer usually seeks reduced charges (and sometimes seeks probation), rather than the stiff penalties (jail time, fines, or both) that would otherwise be available to and might be imposed by the court at a sentencing.

Plea Bargains Are Not Guaranteed

A plea offer is never guaranteed. Plea bargaining is negotiation between the prosecutor and the defense attorney; it is neither an admission of guilt, nor an adjudication (a matter tried by a court). The Supreme Court has held that a prosecutor can withdraw a plea offer at any time including on the courthouse steps, in the courtroom, during a recess of the court before the matter has been adjudicated, and even after the defendant has accepted the offer.

Plea Bargains Are Contractual Offers

Plea bargains are not governed by criminal law, rather they are governed by contract law. As such, plea bargains are contractual offers between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. They are unilateral offers made to a defendant and can be withdrawn at any time before performance. Performance is completed when the court accepts the offer (not when the prosecutor or the defendant accepts it).

Even if a defendant has a criminal defense attorney, a prosecutor can still withdraw an offer. However, it has been the previous experience of the attorneys at Van Wagner & Wood that prosecutors have not withdrawn offers that were made to their clients, perhaps in an effort to avoid a trial at which Van Wagner & Wood's attorneys might prevail.

Plea Bargains Without A Lawyer

Prosecutors rarely will negotiate a plea on criminal charges with a person who is not represented by an attorney. There are several reasons why prosecutors refrain from "private negotiations" on criminal charges, but perhaps the most obvious rests in an understanding of the law and how the law might affect that person. A prosecutor may lead a defendant to believe that the prosecution has a very strong case, meanwhile knowing that they are hoping for a confession. A defendant may be unjustly wronged and his rights may be violated through the advantages that the prosecutor has over the defendant in both knowledge of the law and the very particular details of the case.

Reliance On Plea Bargains - Promissory Estoppel

If a defendant relies upon the offer made by the prosecutor, and even if the defendant accepts that offer, promissory estoppel is not available. Promissory estoppel is a legal fiction created by common law to prevent and stop unjust enrichment. In the situation of plea bargains, particularly when the defendant relies upon the bargain and performs some other act, such as turning state's evidence, one might be led to conclude that the prosecution or the state received a benefit at the defendant's cost. If the plea bargain is withdrawn, then the state received a benefit for which it did not reciprocate a thing of value - in the instance of criminal charges, it would be the reduction or eliminate of a charge or a lesser penalty. However, plea bargains are not required by law to protect the rights of the wrongly accused, the falsely accused, or the justly accused. Rather, they are a unilateral contractual offer, to which the defendant has an alternative required by law: to stand trial. Hence, the doctrine of promissory estoppel does not apply to plea bargains.

Do Van Wagner & Wood's Attorneys Plea Bargain?

Every good criminal defense attorney knows the power of a strong trial record and a reputation for being intelligent and tenacious, as well as the ability and experience to win at trial. And every good criminal defense attorney wields that power to the best of its ability and use with a astute knowledge of the criminal law, the charges against the defendant, the prosecuting attorneys involved in the case, the judge hearing the case, and the probability of winning given all of those factors and the evidence against you. Of course, Van Wagner & Wood's attorneys will plea bargain, but the distinguishing difference that sets "plea bargain mills" apart from trial and litigation experts is the trial record.

The winning record and stellar reputation of the attorneys at Van Wagner & Wood often causes prosecuting attorneys to make very favorable offers or in some situations to drop the charges against their clients. Prosecuting attorneys throughout the state are familiar with the more than thirty years of criminal trial experience and expert trial skills of Van Wagner & Wood's attorneys. Those attorneys will seek the best possible outcome for you at all times given all of the factors.

Van Wagner & Wood's attorneys will provide you with an honest, straightforward, brief but professionalfirst-impression analysis of your case and your situation at no cost to you. Please call ( in Madison, or nationwide) or email ( ) the attorneys at Van Wagner & Wood right away.