Your skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you in a wide array of ways. One vital area is working out a plea agreement. A knowledgeable attorney has the experience to know when you should or should not agree to a plea bargain and, if yes, how to get the best possible deal. Making the right plea bargain can have multiple important benefits for an accused person. It can reduce the amount of time you have to spend in prison, or help you avoid prison entirely. It also can, if carefully constructed, limit the amount of collateral exposure a person can face, such as being placed on — or avoiding — the Sex Offender Registry.
J.R. was one accused man whose recent case is an example of a legal team that made a good deal. J.R. was facing multiple sex crime charges, and some of those were sex crimes charges against a minor. The accused man entered a guilty plea on exactly one charge. That one criminal charge was a sex crime, but it was not a sex crime against a minor. All the other charges, including the sex crimes against a minor, were dropped by the prosecution as part of the plea agreement.
After J.R. agreed to a plea deal, the state notified him that he was required to register as a “Tier II” sex offender, and remain on the Sex Offender Registry for 25 years, because the victim was a minor. J.R. appealed, taking his case all the way to Maryland’s highest court, where he won.
To understand why J.R.’s legal team was able to achieve success for the accused man, it is helpful to understand some things about how criminal cases work when you decide to plead guilty.
When you and the prosecution agree to a plea bargain, the hearing is not just your pleading guilty, the judge announcing the sentence and nothing more. There are other required steps, including placing a “statement of facts” on the record, which establishes the facts that made you guilty. In J.R.’s case, the statement of facts established that he had engaged in the necessary acts to trigger guilt under the general sex crime to which he had pled. There was, however, no statement placed on the record that the victim was a minor, and J.R. never agreed on the record that the victim was underage.
Placement on the registry requires a finding by a court, not the DPSCS
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which is the state department that maintains the registry, determined that J.R. had to register as a Tier II sex offender because his victim was a minor. However, the Court of Appeals made it clear that the department did not have the legal authority to make that factual determination on its own. If the record from a sex offender’s criminal case includes a factual finding that the victim was a minor, then the department can use the finding from that court, but no “statute or regulation gives the Department the authority to make a factual determination as to the victim’s age and to require that an individual register as a Tier II sex offender.”
The law requires that each element, including a victim’s status as a minor, be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That never happened in J.R.’s case when it came to establishing the age of his victim.
J.R.’s defense team avoided agreeing to plead guilty to any crime involving a minor, and avoided any statements of fact in the plea hearing that the victim was a minor. In fact, throughout the entire criminal process, the age of the victim was never established in court on the record. As a result, in the eyes of the law, J.R. was guilty of a sex crime, but was not guilty of a sex crime against a minor, and didn’t have to register on that basis.
Plea agreements are an essential part of the criminal process. They offer benefits to both the state and the accused person. The right plea deal can help you, as an accused person, to avoid potentially longer prison terms (or maybe avoid prison altogether) and other punishments. To help you determine if you should accept a plea agreement offer from the prosecution, it helps to have an experienced advocate on your side. Talk to skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has the experience to provide that sort of helpful advice to accused people in Maryland. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.