Suggestions on Getting the best possible plea deal in New Jersey
TOP TIPS ON HOW A DEFENDANT IN NEW JERSEY
CAN GET THE BEST POSSIBLE PLEA DEAL FROM THE PROSECUTOR
Although this article is addressed mainly for defendants who appear before Municipal Court prosecutors, many of the suggestions and strategies suggested in this article may also be helpful in dealing with County prosecutors.
A plea bargain is basically a negotiation. If you think about it you are involved in plea bargains every day of your life. Plea bargains are a form of compromise. For example, if your children want to go to an R-rated movie that you think is inappropriate you may compromise on a different movie that is more suitable for them. What just occurred? A plea bargain. Again, you and your wife want to have dinner in a restaurant but cannot decide on the type of cuisine. She insists on Chinese food here in the mood for Italian. What to do? You begin a plea bargain negotiation. The negotiation may go something like this:"okay sweetheart, we'll have Chinese food but afterwords I want ice cream Do we have a deal?"
Let’s try it out in a different scenario. At work your boss approaches you and asks you to complete a very difficult project in a short timeframe. After a quick analysis of this new project assignment, you explain to your balls that there are certain variables or factors which must be taken into consideration, and which may require more time than expected. Your boss listens to the reasons you provide for additional time and performs a balancing test. After a brief or thorough review, depending on your book your bosses personality type he will concede that you are correct and will provide more time for you to finish the project. What just happened again? A plea bargain.
The New Jersey Court rules strongly encourage that criminal matters be resolved via plea bargains.
A word of caution: there are certain crimes and traffic violations which are barred from the plea bargaining process. For example, in New Jersey a DUI or DWI cannot be resolved through a plea bargain. This means that the DUI or DWI will either result in a guilty plea, a guilty conviction, or an acquittal after trial. The prosecutor is barred, in other words, prohibited, from downgrading a DUI or a DWI to a lesser charge such as reckless or careless driving.
Getting back to our question of how to obtain the best possible plea bargain New Jersey, here are some suggestions:
First impressions are everything. If the first time you approach a municipal prosecutor you are dressed in a disheveled, unpleasant manner, and smell of alcohol or marijuana, you have failed in making a good first impression. In the alternative, if you approach the prosecutor dressed appropriately and groomed in a clean and respectable manner, chances are that your first impression will be a positive one. A good first impression goes a long way in gaining the prosecutor’s willingness to work out a favorable plea bargain.
Never approach the prosecutor with an aggressive or threatening tone. Defense attorneys and prosecutors understand that defendants are frustrated. They may have a lot going on in their life and the last thing they needed to add to their problems was a traffic ticket, a criminal charge, and the hassle of going to court and facing high fines.
However, the municipal prosecutor is not the person for you to vent out all of your frustration. You must understand that Neither the municipal prosecutor , nor the defense attorney, nor the judge, nor any of the court staff were present when you were cited for a traffic violation or arrested for a criminal charge.
The last thing you want to do is storm in to the municipal prosecutor’s office and unleash all of your frustration and bitterness with the criminal justice system on the innocent prosecutor.
Prosecutors deal with hundreds and hundreds of defendants week in and week out. Please be aware of this fact and try to view the world from the point of view of the municipal prosecutor. The municipal prosecutor has one role and the defense attorney has a different role. We have an adversarial system in our country and both sides are given equal opportunity to be heard and to iron out the issues of any given case.
The point of this suggestion is: do not go to court and try to use the municipal prosecutor as your metaphorical punching bag.
when you enter the prosecutor’s office, sit and listen. Sit there quietly while the prosecutor reviews your file. Avoid the temptation to start explaining your case until the prosecutor asks to hear from you. There is nothing worse for a municipal prosecutor than to have a defendant IN FRONT OF THEM EXPLAINING THEIR SIDE OF THE STORY IN A NERVOUS TONE try while they are attempting to concentrate on that person's file.
Let the municipal prosecutor do his research and wait for him to ask you to explain your side of the story. This is where "less is more". Mentally rehearse what you intend to tell the municipal prosecutor when it is your turn to speak with him. Keep it short and sweet.
be mature and objective. Concede that the police officer's traffic stop was appropriate, however, you dispute XYZ for the following reasons. Once you have stated your case, keep quiet. Give the prosecutor some time to consult with the police officer and think about the best possible resolution to the situation.
The biggest mistake people make in these situations is that they accuse the officer of doing absolutely everything wrong and passionately describe themselves as being completely innocent. Concede what must be conceded and hold your ground on those few issues where you feel that the ticket or the arrest was unfair or inappropriate or with insufficient facts.
Never pressure the municipal prosecutor into getting you out of court as quickly as possible. On average municipal court sessions hear between 80 and 120 cases per session. you are not the only person in court. You will gain absolutely nothing by pressuring the prosecutor to resolve your case ahead of everyone else’s. You will achieve the opposite result by placing this type of pressure on the municipal prosecutor. The municipal prosecutor may put your case on the bottom of the pile because you have been so rude, pushy, and disrespectful. Wait your turn like everybody else and the chances are you will get out of court sooner than you think.
Never threaten the municipal prosecutor. I've witnessed defendants approach prosecutors with an attitude of complete defiance. I’ve heard defendants give prosecutors the following ultimatum: "if you don’t dismiss these charges I’m going to sue you the cops and the city".
This is the absolute worst approach. if you feel that the police acted inappropriately and that your civil rights were violated, then you can file a complaint with the internal affairs department of that Police Department. The municipal prosecutor is not the person to whom you should address your complaints against the police.
Be open-minded and expect to return another day. Once a prosecutor meets with you, he now has to locate the file and make certain that all of the reports are in the file. Then the prosecutor must reach out to the arresting officer and get his version of the events. Quite often officers may be off-duty or on vacation or simply unavailable for a variety of reasons.
The prosecutor may ask you to return within two weeks or a month to give have ample opportunity to discuss the matter with the police officer. Do not become frustrated and pound your fist on his desk. Once again, he is being thorough in doing his job as required by law. He cannot offer you any plea deals without first speaking with the state’s witnesses.
Once the prosecutor offers you a plea, you have every right to respectfully request time to think about it and perhaps discuss it with legal counsel. In my experience, absolutely every municipal prosecutor I have ever dealt with encourages defendants to seek the advice of counsel and will agree to your request for a brief adjournment. Once again, be polite, courteous, and thank the prosecutor for his time. Explain that you will try to meet with an attorney to get a second opinion and that you look forward to working with him again during your next court appearance
Plea bargaining is all about negotiations. From the moment the two parties greet each other through their deliberations and until they finally reach a resolution, the principles of negotiation are all the same. There is no need to be aggressive, antagonistic, forceful, or outright rude.
Your first meeting with the prosecutor should be touch and go. Get a feeling for the prosecutor’s attitude or position in your case and ask what if any options you have in that situation. It may be in your best interest to take a two-week or a one month break and ask the prosecutor for time to mull over the offer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.
In closing, the keys to successful plea bargaining in New Jersey are simple and straightforward. They consist of making a good first impression, being polite, remaining objective, gathering information, getting a feel for the decision maker’s willingness to go in one direction or another, and then taking time to arrive at a decision.
If you follow these suggestions you will greatly increase your chances of getting the best possible plea bargain that a New Jersey municipal prosecutor can legally offer you. Alternatively, if you do not follow these suggestions, you run the risk of losing the prosecutor’s willingness to help.
Mr. Peyrouton is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Hackensack, Bergen County, NJ.