Be Wary of Plea Deal Pitfalls in Birmingham Drug Cases

In the majority of cases, defendants charged with drug crimes in Birmingham will be approached by prosecutors, offering a plea bargain.

Determining whether to accept this offer is an important and often difficult decision. It could be highly beneficial for you, particularly if you have valuable information or testimony to offer. But you should know that not all plea deals are created equal, and the first offer is rarely the best one. In some situations, you may be better off taking your case before a jury at trial.

However, if you do decide to accept a plea deal, you should take the time to become fully educated about it.

The first thing to know is that if part of your agreement with prosecutors involves cooperation with the government, you are compelled to cooperate 100 percent. If you mislead or withhold any information, you may be considered in breach of the deal – even if you still provided a substantial amount of information. So the government ends up getting the benefit of your information, while you don't get the benefit of the deal.

Another common problem is that defendants fail to seek clarification as to how one's prior record will impact the sentence, or whether dismissed counts can be considered under the terms of “relevant conduct.” If a defendant agrees to an open-ended plea, he or she could be led to believe that the sentence will be much lower than what the court ultimately determines when considering these enhancement factors.

If that happens, those who agree to a plea agreement should know that they may not be allowed to appeal.

That's what happened recently in the case of U.S. v. Haubrich, reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Here, the defendant in this drug case was originally charged with eight counts, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, aiding and abetting possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute and conspiracy to burglarize controlled substances. He later changed his plea to guilty in exchange for prosecutors dropping two of those counts.

The defendant was informed at the time of his change of plea that the sentences on multiple counts could be ordered to run either concurrently or consecutively. The defendant indicated to the judge that he understood. He also indicated that he understood he was waiving his right to appeal the conviction or sentence, except on the grounds of ineffective counsel or prosecutorial misconduct.

The court later ruled that several of his sentences were to run consecutively – meaning he would serve a much longer term in prison than he may have originally anticipated.

He appealed on one of the only grounds he could – ineffective counsel. However, the appellate court noted that the defendant had failed to raise any concerns regarding effectiveness of counsel during his change of plea hearing, at which time he indicated that he understood the possible punishment. As the appellate court found no plain error had been committed by the lower court, the conviction and sentence was allowed to stand.

It's important to note that if you are truly innocent, you should never have to plead guilty to any charge simply because of a prosecutor's threat.

We are committed to fighting for the best possible outcome in your Birmingham drug case.

Contact Birmingham Drug Crime Defense Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.