How a Criminal Attorney Can Help You Negotiate the Right Plea Agreement for Your Situation

How a Criminal Attorney Can Help You Negotiate the Right Plea Agreement for Your Situation

How a Criminal Attorney Can Help You Negotiate the Right Plea Agreement for Your Situation

If you’re going to enter into a plea agreement, you may be unsure whether you need a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney on your side. But, not all plea agreements are created equal. And, if you’re unfamiliar with the Florida criminal justice system, you may not be aware of all of the important elements.

Guilty Pleas in Florida and Around the Country

It may seem surprising but the vast majority of criminal cases in the United States resolve through plea agreement rather than through trial.  One study from Pew Research revealed that just 2% of federal criminal defendants go to trial. An earlier study from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) found that 70% of those charged with state misdemeanors in Florida entered a guilty plea at the arraignment hearing. That’s particularly alarming considering that NACDL also reported that 66% of defendants appeared at arraignment without counsel.

What shouldn’t be shocking is how much of an impact a plea in a criminal case can have on a defendant’s life. Everyone knows that a plea of guilty or no contest to a crime could result in some period of incarceration. But not everyone knows that pleas to criminal offeses could have other significant impacts. Some pleas may result in the suspension of a driver’s license. Others might prevent you from owning or possessing a firearm. Others may impact whether you are even eligible to enter certain fields of employment. Suffice it to say reaching a plea deal or plea agreement is a huge deal. Given this level of significance anyone charged with a crime needs to be fully informed about the benefits and consequences of a plea deal prior to entering it. That’s where an experienced local criminal defense lawyer can help. A criminal defense attorney can assist you in not only explaining to you all the provisions of a plea deal, but they can also assist you in trying to negotiate the very best possible resolution. So if you or a loved one have been charged with a crime make sure you speak with an expert before a plea is entered.

Negotiating a Jacksonville Plea Agreement

Some key ways a criminal defense attorney can help negotiate the right plea agreement for you include:

1. A criminal lawyer will know the full ramifications of a guilty plea to a particular charge.

Understandably, many people hearing a plea offer from the prosecution are very focused on elements like jail time, fines, and conditions of probation. But, those aren’t necessarily the only things you should be worried about. For example, certain types of convictions may trigger a driver’s license suspension beyond what’s imposed by the court, or may limit your ability to work in certain professions or even to live in certain places. A criminal defense lawyer who understands the full consequences of a particular conviction may be able to negotiate for a plea to a lesser charge, eliminating or reducing some of the indirect consequences of the conviction.

Your attorney can also advise you as to the strength or weakness of your case if you were to go to trial, so you can weigh the consequences of accepting a plea agreement against the risks of proceeding and fighting the charges against you.

2. An experienced defense lawyer can assess your case for weaknesses.

Even if you know exactly what you want to argue for, you may not know how to persuade the prosecution to agree to reduce a charge, skip the jail time, or make other concessions. One of the best ways to put pressure on the prosecuting attorney is to identify weaknesses in the case that mean the prosecution may face an uphill battle in the courtroom. Often, these weaknesses are based on a technical reading of the law, or on law enforcement’s failure to follow specific procedures or properly secure evidence.

Most people who are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system won’t recognize these potential weaknesses, and won’t know how to document and raise them. But, an experienced criminal defense attorney will be on alert for this type of crack in the case, either to provide negotiating power or to open the door to getting the case dismissed or fighting it at trial.

3. A local criminal defense attorney will know what types of arguments are generally successful with the local prosecutor and court.

Prosecutors and judges are humans, and both have a degree of discretion. That means each may be influenced to a greater or lesser degree by different variables. Perhaps one prosecutor feels strongly about keeping people employed and productive, and so might be open to adapting a plea agreement in a way that wouldn’t cause the defendant to lose their job. Some may favor giving young defendants facing charges for the first time a break, while others may feel it’s important to send a strong message to get the accused back on the right path quickly. A lawyer who understands which variables matter most to the prosecution is in the best position to build an effective argument for more favorable treatment.

4. A veteran criminal defense attorney can help you form realistic expectations.

When it comes to criminal charges, most people are looking for the most lenient possible treatment. Ideally, the charges would be dismissed. If that’s not possible, then a less serious conviction with no jail time would be preferred. But, of course, those outcomes aren’t always realistic. The type of plea agreement available will depend on a wide variety of factors.

Lack of experience can lead unrepresented defendants into trouble in two ways. First, when a criminal defendant is unrepresented in Florida, their ability to negotiate with the prosecution is severely limited. This is primarily due to the prosecutor seeking to respect a criminal defendant’s right to remain silent. But regardless, the result is that most unrepresented criminal defendant’s are unable to effectively reach a great plea deal.

At the other end of the spectrum, criminal defendants sometimes miss out on the opportunity to plea bargain because they are holding out for an unrealistic outcome.

Of course, no criminal defense attorney can guarantee a particular outcome in your case. But, an attorney who is experienced in the Jacksonville criminal courts can offer a realistic view of what may be possible in terms of a plea agreement, the likelihood of a conviction if you go to trial, and what type of sentences the court has imposed in similar cases after conviction at trial.

Talk to a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer Right Away

If you’re considering a plea agreement, there are a number of variables to consider, including:

  • Whether accepting a plea deal is the best option, or there may be weaknesses that make going to trial a good option for you
  • What the most important aspects of the plea deal are for you, taking into account both direct and indirect consequences
  • Whether the plea offer you have received is the best offer available to you, which means considering any weaknesses in the case, any mitigating factors on your side, and other variables

It’s easy for an unrepresented criminal defendant to make serious mistakes, either in accepting a plea agreement too quickly without an effective negotiation process or in turning down a plea bargain that might have prevented a lengthy prison sentence or other serious consequences. An experienced local criminal lawyer like Matthrew Lufrano can be the best source of information about your rights, your options, any possible weaknesses in your case, and the other factors that impact the terms of a plea agreement.

To learn more, call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this site right away.

Why You Should Hire a DUI Attorney

Why You Should Hire a DUI Attorney

Why You Should Hire a DUI Attorney

When you’re facing criminal charges, there’s a lot at stake. Most people recognize that when they’re charged with certain types of crimes. Few people would decide to show up in court alone and see what happens if they were facing armed robbery charges, for instance. But, many people think of a DUI charge more like a traffic infraction, underestimating the possible consequences. 

Too often, that means ugly surprises after a guilty plea or conviction.

The best time to get complete information about your rights, your options, and the possible consequences of a conviction is right after you’ve been charged, before you’ve made any decisions about how to move forward. 

Fortunately, it’s easy to get the help you need. Defense Attorney Matthew Lufrano has devoted his career to helping people who have been charged with crimes in Jacksonville and throughout Florida. He’s tried cases ranging from misdemeanors to murder charges, and the Florida Bar has designated him a Board Certified Expert in Criminal Trial Law. He has also previosuly served as the President of the Jacksonville chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. 

Mr. Lufrano knows how important it is for people facing DUI charges and other Florida criminal charges to have knowledgeable guidance as early in the process as possible. That’s why he offers free consultations to people who have been charged with driving under the influence in and around Jacksonville. You can schedule yours right now by calling 904-513-3905 or filling out the contact form on this site.

8 Reasons to Hire a Jacksonville DUI Lawyer

Some key reasons you should hire an attorney if you’re facing DUI charges in Florida include:

1. You may not be aware of all of the consequences of a Florida DUI conviction.

If you enter a guilty plea to a Jacksonville DUI charge without a plea agreement or are convicted at trial, the judge has far less discretion in sentencing than you may realize. For the charge of DUI the Florida Legislature has mandated a number of significant mandatory sanctions for anyone who pleads to a DUI. These penalties include a mandatory six month driver’s license suspension, a period of probation, and a requirement that a defendant will have a permanent criminal record documenting the conviction. (These aren’t all of the mandatory penalties, but they should illustrate that such charges are serious.) 

Additionally, while some people don’t get jail time for a first-time DUI, the law allows a jail sentence of up to six months for a standard first offense. You may also not be aware of the various direct consequences of a DUI conviction, even if you aren’t sentenced to jail. The minimum penalties for a first-time DUI in Florida includes six months of probation, completion of DUI school, participation in a victim impact panel, community service, court costs and more.

Of course, those consequences may be more severe if it’s a second offense (or beyond), if your BAC was particularly high, or if there were other circumstances that elevate the classification of the crime or the minimum or maximum possible sentence. 

If the prosecuting attorney offers you a plea agreement, the terms of that agreement will include the consequences to be imposed directly by the court, such as jail time, fines, probation, court costs, community service, a driver’s license suspension, and mandatory attendance at drug or alcohol counseling.

But, neither the court nor the prosecuting attorney is obligated to warn you about non-judicial consequences. These may include official penalties, such as an administrative driver’s license suspension. They may also include indirect consequences such as increased automobile insurance rates and disqualification from certain kinds of work. 

The worst time to learn about these additional consequences is after you’ve entered a guilty plea and the court has entered a judgment of conviction. You waive many rights when pleading guilty, and may have no recourse if you later discover that you made a bad deal. When you hire an experienced Jacksonville DUI lawyer, your attorney can explain the full range of potential consequences associated with a DUI conviction before you make a decision about how to proceed with your case.

2. The state may not have enough evidence to convict you.

Many people believe you can’t beat a Florida DUI charge, but that’s not necessarily true. Every case is different, and while sometimes the best option will be to reach a plea deal other cases should be challenged. The work that an attorney can do in challenging the DUI charge could result in the charges being dismissed or in a victory at trial. 

An experienced DUI attorney can assess your case for issues such as whether the police officer had probable cause to pull you over and whether chemical tests or field sobriety tests were properly administered. Your attorney can also review police reports and other evidence to determine whether there are inconsistencies in the officer’s story or if proper procedures were ignored. The next steps will depend on what the attorney finds. If the stop itself was unjustified, your attorney may be able to get all of the evidence collected during the stop suppressed. In that situation, the prosecuting attorney may dismiss the charges, since they are unlikely to be able to prove their case at trial. 

Or, if there was a problem with the BAC testing equipment or procedures, your attorney might be able to take other action that significantly helps your case. 

These are just two examples of ways an experienced Jacksonville DUI lawyer may be able to fight the charges against you.

3. You may not be getting the best deal possible.

When the prosecuting attorney offers you a plea deal, if you’re unrepresented they likely won’t say more than the parameters of the offer. As such, its impossible to really know if its the best deal you could achieve. Further, if you’re like most DUI defendants–especially first-time defendants–you don’t know what the prosecutor’s standard offer in a DUI case like yours is. You don’t know what type of sentence the judge typically imposes if someone pleads guilty to DUI without a plea agreement or is convicted at trial. 

Most importantly, you don’t know what weaknesses there may be in the state’s case. As described above, sometimes those weaknesses are significant enough that your attorney can get the case dismissed, or can win the case at trial. Even when they’re not, identifying cracks in the case may give your attorney leverage to negotiate a more favorable plea deal for you. But, if you take a quick plea offer, you may never know how strong or weak the case against you was, or whether you might have been able to avoid conviction or get a better deal.

4. You already have one or more DUI convictions.

Second offenses and subsequent DUIs are treated more harshly than first offenses. In some cases, other types of prior convictions or traffic citations may also play a role in the penalties for a DUI conviction. If you’re heading into court on a DUI charge and your record isn’t clean, it’s in your best interest to seek representation before you appear in court. The same is true if you are also facing additional charges, such as driving with a suspended or revoked license, operating without insurance, or another charge.

5. You have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Any DUI conviction can have serious consequences, but for a commercial driver, the stakes are even higher. That means it’s even more important to speak with an experienced DUI lawyer and make sure you have the information and guidance you need to make the best decision about how to proceed.

If the alleged DUI took place in a commercial vehicle, the bar for conviction is much lower. That’s because Florida prohibits driving a commercial vehicle with any amount of alcohol in your system. Even a trace of alcohol can result in a moving violation. A BAC of .04 or greater is sufficient to trigger a one-year disqualification from holding a commercial driver’s license. Under some circumstances, the disqualification may be even longer. 

If a CDL holder is arrested for DUI while operating their personal vehicle or another non-commercial vehicle, the standard is the same as it is for any other driver. In other words, the state must prove that the driver either had a BAC of .08 or greater or was impaired by drugs or alcohol. But, that one-year disqualification still applies. And, a second conviction–or a first conviction paired with certain other offenses–can lead to permanent loss of eligibility for a CDL. 

When the disqualification period ends, the commercial driver has to start over, paying the application fee and taking all required testing before reinstatement. It’s also important to note that after reinstatement, some companies will still decline to hire or contract with a commercial driver who has a DUI conviction.

6. You’re under 21 and charged with DUI.

Like commercial drivers, underage drivers have more at risk in a DUI case. Florida has a “zero tolerance” police on underage drinking and driving. That means a driver under 21 can be convicted of driving under the influence with a BAC of just .02. 

What does that mean in terms of alcohol consumption? For a woman weighing 120-140 pounds, a single drink can mean a BAC of about .04. Even a 200-220 pound man can hit .02 after just one drink. In other words, you may not even be feeling the effects of alcohol, or may have only the slightest sensation of having been drinking while you’re over the legal limit for a driver under 21. 

Both the process and the possible consequences for drinking and driving underage vary depending on factors such as how high the driver’s BAC was and whether the driver is under the age of 18. The best source of information about what to expect after an underage driver has been stopped for DUI is an experienced Jacksonville DUI attorney.

7. You damaged someone’s property.

A first-time DUI typically carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail. But, if you damage someone else’s property, that potential penalty increases to one year. That could mean a collision that caused damage to another vehicle, or something as simple as knocking down a mailbox or hitting a guardrail. In this situation, you will likely also be ordered to pay restitution to the person whose property was damaged.

8. Someone has been injured because you were driving under the influence.

DUI with injuries is a more serious crime in Florida, and carries more serious penalties than a straight DUI charge. A person who operates a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol or with a BAC of .08 or greater, and causes serious bodily injury to another person is guilty of a felony of the third degree. In Florida, a felony of the third degree is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and five years of probation. Even a minor injury can bump up a first-time DUI to a misdemeanor of the first degree, meaning the possibility of up to one year in jail. 

If someone is killed, the charge is DUI manslaughter, which is a felony of the second degree. A second degree felony carries a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine. In some situations, this charge may be enhanced to a felony of the first degree, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Every DUI Case is Different

You may hear that there’s a standard sentence for DUI charges in your local court, and the prosecution may present a plea offer as a “take it or leave it” proposition. But, the truth is that DUI cases can differ for many reasons. Maybe the case is weak, and an experienced DUI attorney might be able to get it dismissed entirely. Maybe critical evidence can be suppressed. 

On the other hand, some DUI cases involve factors that increase the risks, whether that means the age of the driver, the fact that the driver holds a CDL, an especially high BAC, property damage, or injury to another person. 

To learn more about what the specifics of your case mean for you and how you may be able to fight Florida DUI charges, schedule a free consultation with DUI attorney Matthew Lufrano right now. Just call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this site to get started.

Best Practices for Working With Your Criminal Defense Lawyer

Best Practices for Working With Your Criminal Defense Lawyer

Best Practices for Working With Your Criminal Defense Lawyer

When you’ve been accused of a crime, the right criminal defense lawyer can make all the difference. Too often, people who are unfamiliar with the Florida criminal justice system make serious mistakes simply because they don’t fully understand their rights or how to fight the charges against them. But, just hiring a lawyer isn’t enough. Your own actions will have a big impact on how much a criminal lawyer can help you.

Here’s what you need to know about working effectively with your defense lawyer:

1. Contact an attorney as early in the process as possible. Of course, if you haven’t already retained a criminal defense attorney, it’s better to do so now than never. But, there are several reasons it’s to your advantage to hire an attorney right away.

Having an attorney has the potential to help you at every stage of the criminal process. Even if you only think an arrest is possibly on the horizon, seeking out an attorney and getting their advice could make all the difference in the world. The truth is there is little more stressful in a person’s life than being restrained and then interrogated. Rather than going that alone, take steps to have an experienced counselor at your side. You’ll be glad you did.

Likewise, most average American’s are not legal experts. As such, it’s not uncommon that average people may inadvertently take steps that might hurt their own case, like making admissions or missing deadlines. So if you or a loved one are facing a criminal charge don’t go it alone. Get the help and support or a experienced criminal defense attorney.

2. Answer your criminal defense lawyer’s questions honestly and completely. It can be tough to open up to your defense attorney. You’re putting your future in the hands of a near-stranger, and it’s natural that you want that person to think well of you. But, the very last thing you want is for your lawyer to be blindsided in court–or even in a negotiation with the prosecution.

Your defense lawyer isn’t expecting you to be perfect. But, they need you to be honest to build the strongest possible case on your behalf.

3. Follow your defense lawyer’s advice. When you’ve been charged with a crime or are facing other legal issues, you’ll undoubtedly get a lot of unsolicited advice from people in your life. While their intentions are probably good, the outcome of taking that sort of advice is often very bad.

You may not always understand why your lawyer is telling you to take or avoid certain actions. You should always feel free to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense to you–it’s your future on the line! But, above all else, listen to your lawyer. Failure to do so can jeopardize your case and your freedom.

4. Avoid discussing your case with other people. This is actually one of those pieces of advice that clients often disregard, but it’s important enough to warrant its own entry. There are many ways casual conversations about your charges can come back to haunt you, including making statements that may come back to haunt you.

It’s easy to want to tell a significant other or friend about the facts that have landed you in hot water. While most of the time discussions with those close to you are innocent in nature, it is vital for any criminal defendant to understand that conversations with friends or paramours are not confidential. Further, if the prosecution learns about these conversations they could force those close to you to testify about them. Fortunately, criminal defendant’s don’t have to suffer in silence. That’s because conversations between a criminal defendant and their attorney are privileged and confidential.

Likewise, it’s also important to avoid talking about your case in social media or other contexts where everything you say will be documented and can be scrutinized later. Don’t expect “friends only” type settings to protect you.

5. Stay in communication with your defense lawyer. With so much on the line, you wouldn’t think a criminal defendant would need to be reminded to answer the phone when their attorney calls or send information along promptly. But, many clients in criminal cases are slow to respond or to pass along important information like witness names and contact information.

It’s understandable that someone facing criminal charges might want to avoid thinking about their predicament as much as possible. But, it’s important to understand that sometimes your attorney will need you to respond quickly. And, some of the information necessary to fully prepare your defense exists only in your memory. Your criminal defense lawyer will need your participation and cooperation to represent you as effectively as possible.

6. Never engage in self-help without consulting your criminal lawyer. Maybe you think that if you just talk to the victim, you can clear things up and the charges will be dropped. Maybe you want to check in with a witness and make sure their memory of events matches yours. Maybe you’re considering going to the crime scene to do some amateur investigation and see whether you can turn up some important evidence that police missed or concealed.

These are just a few examples of self-help ideas criminal defendants have that can be catastrophic. In some cases, these actions can even result in additional charges. If you have an idea about something that might help your case, discuss it with your criminal defense attorney. If your attorney agrees that interviewing a witness or getting some photos of the crime scene might be helpful, they have staff and contractors for that. Let the professionals who understand the most effective approach and who will know how to conduct the investigation without damaging your case or putting you at risk of new charges do the legwork.

The bottom line is that you and your criminal defense lawyer must be a team with a common goal. And, it’s important to remember that you hired an experienced defense lawyer for a reason. You are the client and ultimately many of the decisions are yours. But, your attorney knows the substantive law involved in your case, the procedural requirements associated with a Florida criminal prosecution, how judges and juries react to certain types of information, how police and prosecutors may use innocent actions or statements against you, and much more.

Never lie to your criminal lawyer, go behind their back to try to manage any aspect of the case, ignore their calls, or otherwise leave them without the information and cooperation they need to work effectively on your behalf.

To learn more about how an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer like Matthew Lufrano can help you, call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this page right now. The sooner you have an experienced defense attorney in your corner the better.