Those who face arrest for marijuana-related crimes may be given the opportunity to negotiate a plea bargain. Plea bargaining can appear to be a better option than taking your chances in court, especially if you are facing federal charges as most drug defendants face in California since the state has decriminalized most types of cannabis offenses. Before you enter into a plea deal, however, it is imperative that you make the most informed choices and fully understand the long-term consequences of the decision you are making.
Prosecutors Often Fail to Disclose the Full Consequences Associated with Taking a Plea Deal
Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties recently published an article warning prosecutors are not fully disclosing the far-reaching consequences associated with the acceptance of a plea bargain. The consequences extend beyond the punishment imposed by the criminal justice system and include extrajudicial consequences which can effectively amount to “modern day civil death.”
When a prosecutor offers a plea agreement, the prosecutor typically provides information on jail time the defendant will receive, as well as probation, parole, fines, and other immediate consequences imposed by the criminal justice system. However, there is no constitutional requirement for prosecutors to explain extrajudicial consequences which are associated with the criminal conviction that will show up on a defendant’s record if a plea deal is accepted. Prosecutors have to disclose a very limited number of non-criminal consequences, such as the possibility of deportation in certain cases, but usually are not mandated to provide any substantial information on how a plea deal will affect a defendant’s life over the long-term.
Some of the many consequences which a defendant could face after accepting a plea deal and getting a criminal conviction include loss of the right to become a citizen; loss of property rights or abridgment of property rights; loss of professional or occupational licenses; and loss of access to student aid, supplemental nutrition assistance, and other public benefits. A criminal conviction associated with a plea bargain could also affect future employment opportunities and could be a consideration in future family law cases which may arise. Prosecutors rarely, if ever, fully inform defendants about all of these long-lasting and life-changing extrajudicial consequences.
Instead of letting defendants know what a plea bargain could do to their future, prosecutors end up coercing plea bargains out of defendants by using two primary techniques: horizontal overcharging and vertical overcharging. Horizontal overcharging occurs when prosecutors threaten to press criminal charges for each illegal transaction or when prosecutors break up one crime into multiple component offenses to threaten multiple charges. Vertical overcharging occurs when prosecutors charge defendants for more serious crimes which the prosecutor may not be able to actually prove in court. Prosecutors may also threaten to bring federal charges with long mandatory minimums based on the weight or amount of drugs in a defendant’s possession, even if the defendant had minimal involvement in the drug trade.
Defendants, facing horizontal or vertical overcharging, may be threatened with very long prison sentences so plea bargains can seem attractive. Before entering a plea to any marijuana criminal charges, however, defendants should speak with experienced marijuana lawyers to explore possible defenses and to fully understand the consequences of the plea deal.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
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Delays in Medical Marijuana Programs Harm Patients- Will Emergency Access Be Granted? Nov. 11, 2015, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog