Can a judge disregard a plea deal and give me a harsher sentence?

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Question:

Can a judge disregard a plea deal and give me a harsher sentence?

Answer:

Judges almost always rubber-stamp plea deals. (See How Judges Accept and Reject Plea Deals.) To make sure that a deal to plead guilty can be canceled if the judge refuses to go along with it, the defendant should make it clear that he or she will plead guilty only if the sentencing judge agrees to impose the agreed-upon sentence.

Example: Mickey Finn is charged with drunk driving. Mickey agrees to plead guilty after the prosecutor promises to recommend that the judge not impose any jail time. The prosecutor also says, “I can’t promise that Judge Seagram will follow my recommendation; the judge almost always gives first-timers like you 48 hours in jail.” After Mickey pleads guilty, Judge Seagram in fact sentences Mickey to 48 hours in jail. Mickey cannot withdraw the guilty plea. The deal was not contingent on the judge following the prosecutor’s sentence recommendation.

Example: Same case. Again, the prosecutor says, “I can’t make any promises that Judge Seagram will go along with the deal.” Mickey’s attorney then says, “We’ll plead guilty only if the judge agrees to no jail time. Let’s get an indicated sentence from Judge Seagram.” Judge Seagram informs the prosecutor and defense attorney that if Mickey pleads guilty, the sentence will be two days in jail. Because Mickey never entered a guilty plea, Mickey’s attorney had the right to cancel the deal when the judge refused to go along with it. Of course, Mickey could end up with an even longer jail sentence if he takes the case to trial and is convicted.

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