Can you lose the right to appeal a ruling by taking a plea deal?

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Defense attorneys are sometimes able to negotiate conditional pleas. This kind of plea arrangement allows a defendant to strike a deal with the prosecution and at the same time contest a ruling by the judge. The defendant reserves the right to appeal a particular ruling that the judge has issued. If she loses her appeal, then the conviction stands. If she wins it, she can withdraw her guilty or no-contest plea.

In some states, the right to appeal a certain issue is automatic, making a conditional plea unnecessary when it comes to that issue. For example, California law provides that a defendant who pleads guilty can appeal a judge’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence. (Cal. Pen. Code § 1538.5(m).)

But, even in states like California, defendants who plead guilty (or no contest) may forfeit their right to appeal a ruling like denial of a suppression motion. That’s because the prosecution may require that the defendant give up this right as a condition of a plea agreement.

Example: Police officers stop Hillary for drunk driving. The prosecution files DUI charges against her. There’s no question that she was driving drunk, but she believes that the police had no basis for stopping her. So, she files a motion to suppress the evidence against her. After losing that motion, she reaches a plea agreement with the prosecution. In her state, there’s an automatic right to appeal the denial of a motion to suppress evidence. But the prosecution insists that she waive her appellate rights as a condition of a plea bargain. If she accepts the plea, she loses the ability to continue to ask for suppression of the evidence. (People v. Berkowitz, 34 Cal.App.4th 671 (1995).)

If you want to know whether you can appeal after pleading guilty or no contest, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to tell you whether you have to reserve the right to appeal an issue, and whether there are ways to appeal even if you waived your appellate rights.

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