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Accepting a plea deal is often the best course of action for a criminal defendant, but no one should accept a plea bargain blindly.
Depending on the terms of your agreement to plead guilty or no-contest to an offense, you may give up your rights to change your mind or fight for your case in the future.
So before you sign a plea deal, consider these five things:
1. Take Prison or Jail Time Seriously.
If your plea bargain includes any sort of jail or prison time over one month, you should really take time to consider what that will mean. (Unlike "Real Housewives" star Teresa Giudice, who recently showcased ignorance of her own plea bargain on national television. It won't stop her from serving time in prison after her fraud conviction.)
Remember that while incarcerated, you will need someone to pay your bills, provide childcare, and ensure that your belongings are secure. You may also lose your job if you do time.
2. You May Not Be Able to Appeal.
Many plea bargains include a waiver of appeal, which may mean you would give up your right to contest your plea or your case in court. Discuss what this means with your attorney, as courts aren't very open to arguments about your ignorance of the law.
3. Know the Potential Consequences of a Conviction.
If you plead guilty to a felony, even with no time spent incarcerated, you may be limited in your future options. As a felon, you may lose your right to vote. Employers may also ask you about your felony convictions; even a "no contest" plea counts as a conviction.
4. Understand Your Waivers.
After agreeing to a plea bargain, a judge will ask you if you understand your rights in your case and that you are voluntarily waiving them. Put your attorney to task and have this fully explained before you get to court. Complaining later that your attorney just told you to say "yes" may not be very effective.
5. Ask About Potential Immigration Consequences.
Plea bargains can be specifically crafted to help immigrants avoid being potentially barred from re-entering the United States. Especially with drug offenses, you need to work closely with your attorney to make sure the charges and facts you plead to do not ruin your future hopes to become a citizen.
And of course, you should always have an attorney evaluate your plea deal before you take it.