Should I Take a Plea Deal?
Most service members accused of a UCMJ violation want to know more about the pros and cons of accepting the military version of a plea deal (pre-trial agreement). This is undoubtedly a difficult decision and can only be answered after thoroughly reviewing the facts and circumstances of each client's unique situation.
I am going to go through and list several tips for dealing with this tough decision. Only after considering these factors should you make a final decision.
Tip #1 : Ask Your Defense Attorney the Hard Questions
Ensure that you pick your attorney's brain regarding your possible defenses and ways to possibly mitigate the charges against you. Your career, future, and reputation is on the line and you cannot afford to be shy. You deserve an aggressive defense and a frank and thorough explanation of what you are facing.
You must discuss the pros and cons of different strategies, including pre-trial agreements and potential trial strategies. If you feel that you are not getting the kind of defense you would like, consider speaking with a civilian military defense attorney about your options.
Tip #2 : Make Sure You Fully Understand the Consequences of Pleading Guilty
Military convictions are reported to the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC). These convictions will show up on a background check. Remember, being convicted at court-martial or pleading guilty to a UCMJ violation is equivalent to being convicted of a federal crime in a federal court.
If you plead guilty, you need to understand that the conviction will likely never go away, and depending on the offenses, you may be considered a felon. As a felon, you lose the right to vote and the right to own and carry weapons. You will also have to disclose your criminal history when you apply for almost any job.
Tip # 3 : If you plead guilty to an Article 120 case or any case involving alleged sexual misconduct, make sure you understand that you will have to register as a sex offender
Before you enter into any kind of plea agreement, you need to make sure that your attorney explains whether or not the deal will require you to register as a sex offender. This is extremely important and will be a critical factor for you to consider before accepting a deal. Sex offender registry carries lifelong and life-altering consequences. You will be subject to continuous monitoring and stigmatization for the rest of your life.
Tip # 4 : Make Sure You Understand the Risks vs. the Rewards of Accepting a Deal
This cannot be emphasized enough: make sure you are able to sit down with your attorney and fully go over the risks associated with accepting a deal vs. the potential rewards. Your attorney needs to be able to give you a detailed and realistic range of potential outcomes. If you feel that your assigned defense attorney has not conducted a thorough analysis of your case from every angle, you should consider speaking with a civilian military defense attorney who understands how this works.
Tip # 5 : Ask Your Attorney Whether They Have Spoken to Witnesses/Analyzed Potential Government Arguments
Your attorney should not be trying to talk you into accepting a plea deal until after he or she has conducted an independent investigation and explained what they believe to be the strengths and weaknesses of the government's case against you. They should know which witnesses could be impeached through cross-examination or have their stories contradicted by other evidence. If you cannot get a satisfactory answer from your defense attorney, you should consider speaking with a civilian military defense attorney who has the time, experience, and resources to fully investigate and counsel you.
Tip # 6 : Ask Your Attorney Whether There Are Motions that Could Be Filed to Either Have Some of the Charges Dismissed or Have the Entire Case Dismissed
Every service member has the right to a fair trial and due process. You have the right to all the protections that the Constitution guarantees. It is your defense attorney's job to protect your rights and make sure they are upheld. Often, your rights are defended through filing motions to dismiss your case based on unlawful command influence, or violations of your right to remain silent and consult with an attorney based on Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Don't be shy - ask your attorney whether they have researched all potential motions on your case prior to agreeing to plead guilty.
Tip # 7 : Talk to Your Defense Attorney About Pros/Cons of Jury (Member) trial vs. Judge Alone Trial
No matter what, make sure you understand your attorney's reasoning behind their advice on this issue. Judges can be more predictable than members in the punishments they issue, however they tend to impose harsher sentences than a court-martial panel will adjudge. It is important that you fully understand the risks associated with this decision.
As someone being accused of a crime, it's important that you discuss each of the issues discussed in this post to make sure that you are making the best decision for your future. The Law Office of Ashley Lansdown, PLLC is here to help you make the most informed decision possible and to guide you through the stressful legal process. If you are facing charges and want to talk about all of your options, contact our office for a free consultation today. We would be happy to sit down and talk with you.