If you face a federal white collar crime charge in Ohio, you and your attorney may have the opportunity to enter into a plea bargain agreement with the prosecutor. It may surprise you to learn that upwards of 90 percent of federal white collar criminal cases are resolved this way. In addition, for those defendants who choose not to accept a plea bargain, juries convict about 90 percent of them.
You need to understand that in any plea bargain you gain certain advantages, such as a possibly reduced prison sentence and the monetary savings of not having to take your case all the way to jury trial. Unfortunately, however, you also agree to certain negative things in a plea bargain, including the following:
- You give up your constitutionally protected right to a jury trial.
- You have to admit your guilt in open court.
- You become a convicted felon.
- Normally you give up the right to appeal your conviction.
- Normally you cannot later change your mind and rescind your plea agreement.
Some wiggle room
In the recent case of Class v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held earlier this year that you may have some wiggle room in a white collar plea bargain after all. The Justices held in this 6-3 opinion that in some cases, you may be able to change your mind about the plea bargain you agreed to and appeal your conviction.
In this particular case the defendant, Mr. Class, pleaded guilty to carrying a gun in his Jeep at the time he parked it in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill, a no-firearm zone. His plea agreement called for a sentence of 24 days in prison plus a one-year probation period.
Class appealed his voluntary plea agreement and resulting conviction. He did not contest the fact that he had a gun in his Jeep when he parked it in a no-firearm zone. Nor did he contest the fact that he broke the law as it was written. Instead, he appealed on the following grounds:
- His valid North Carolina gun permit allowed him to keep his gun locked in his Jeep’s safe where it was at the time of his arrest.
- He was not aware of the Washington, D.C. laws regarding firearms.
- The statute underlying the crime for which he received a conviction was unconstitutional, violating his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
- The sign in the parking lot where he parked his Jeep violated his 14th Amendment right to due process.
- His voluntary plea agreement had contained no express waiver of his right to appeal his conviction.
Despite the fact that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied Class’s appeal, stating that his voluntary plea agreement implied the waiver of his right to appeal, constitutionally or otherwise, the Supreme Court disagreed. The Justices held that “Class did not relinquish his right to appeal the District Court’s constitutional determinations simply by pleading guilty.”
With this landmark decision, you may be able to challenge any plea agreement you enter into or one that you may have already agreed to take. Nevertheless, it is always in your best interests to discuss a plea agreement fully, including its potential negative consequences, with your attorney before signing off on it.