Since 97% of criminal cases these days are likely to be settled by plea bargains, it's important to understand that there are still a variety of options that might be available. One of the options you might have in your case is called a conditional plea. Learn more about what this could mean for you.
What is a conditional plea and how does it differ from a standard plea?
Normally, when you accept a plea, you admit your guilt and accept a sentence to go along with it. Usually, the plea is made in exchange for the promise of a lighter sentence. In return, the state gets to avoid the expense and time of taking you to trial. The consequences are the same as a conviction, except that you have no right to appeal your verdict.
A conditional plea essentially allows you to agree to the plea deal but reserve the right to appeal a specific issue or issues. This is a particular benefit to the defendant when there is a specific issue that could disrupt the prosecution's case. For example, if the prosecution's case is built largely on evidence that was seized in a police raid, your attorney may try to challenge the legality of the search in court. If the trial court says that the search is lawful, a conditional plea can allow you to skip trial but still preserve the right to take the issue of the search's legality to the appellate court.
You don't have an automatic right to a conditional plea (any more than you have a right to a regular plea bargain). A conditional plea has to be agreed upon by the prosecution and the specific issue being preserved for appeal has to be put in writing.
What happens after the conditional plea is entered?
Once the conditional plea is entered, the issue (or issues) on appeal goes before the judge in the higher court where the prosecution and your defense attorney will each argue their side. If your defense loses the appeal, you'll have the right to withdraw your plea and ask for a trial instead.
If you win the appeal, there could be several possible outcomes, depending on the issue that's being challenged:
- If the prosecution's case is severely damaged, the case could be dismissed.
- If the prosecution's case is mildly damaged, you could still go to trial.
- If the issue only affects the nature of the charges against you, you could receive a lighter sentence than you would otherwise.
For example, in a case involving a Florida teen accused of murder, the teen entered a conditional plea because her defense attorney is seeking to have her sentenced as a juvenile, instead of facing the stiffer penalty given to an adult. The prosecution wants her sentenced as an adult. If the defense is successful, she'll be sentenced as a minor. If the prosecution is successful, she could withdraw her plea. At that point, the prosecution could decide to offer her a plea bargain or take the case to trial.
Because of the complicated nature of conditional pleas, discuss the possibility carefully with a criminal defense lawyer.