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Better Fairfax plea deal trends do not okay diluting trial readiness

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Better Fairfax and Northern Virginia plea negotiation trends do not change that they still are prosecutors, says Fairfax criminal lawyer

Better Fairfax and Northern Virginia plea negotiations — better, that is, for criminal defendants — is a major trend ever since much more defendant-friendly chief prosecutors swept into the four most populous northern Virginia counties in early 2020. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know that my opponents in court still are prosecutors, who are looking out for their own agenda and livelihoods, and not mine nor that of my clients. Fully preparing a case for trial makes the case more likely to settle, based on the extra threat presented to the opponent who knows that his or her formidable opposing attorney is all the stronger by being trial ready at all times. Fully preparing a case for trial means the defense lawyer’s not having his proverbial pants pulled down if his or her client decides after all to go to trial and not to pursue the most recent tentative plea agreement. Trial readiness at every turn is key.

Is the better Fairfax and Northern Virginia plea deal climate a tectonic shift or a redirection towards more just results?

A favorable but not tectonic shift is present for negotiating many criminal cases in Fairfax and other Northern Virginia courthouses. On the flip side, walk into a Fairfax bond hearing courtroom and other courtrooms in Northern Virginia, and find plenty of circumstances where prosecutors urge the judge not to release the defendant pending trial or preliminary hearing. In other Northern Virginia courtrooms, jurors are recommending substantial sentences on repeat DUI convictions. That is no tectonic shift, but a movement that benefits from the awakening of the last few decades. Prosecutors will have their hot button issues that can make them generally reluctant to agree to any plea deal that the defendant would be ready to agree to. In any event, settlement negotiations have to be from a position of strength.

More frequent favorable plea deals means fewer cases proceeding to trial

Fortunately, I already have successful experience defending hundreds of Virginia DUI and criminal defendants at trial, in many instances because I felt that the prosecutor had made an unwise decision not to spend more time on getting to the yes of a negotiated settlement in my client’s case. Proceeding to trial is in my blood. Now, with often significantly better Fairfax plea negotiations, that will translate to fewer criminal cases tried each year by criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors. The downside to that is the gap between the trial experience that newer trial lawyers want, versus how much such experience they actually get. Ironically, on the flip side is federal felony court, where prosecutors there get limited trial experience as a result of defendant who enter guilty pleas not because they are backed by favorable deals, but because the defendant is justifiably concerned about the high conviction rate with federal felony convictions, and the accompanying higher sentencing scheme.

Beware of prosecutors proclaiming to bear gifts

A prosecutor is still a prosecutor. They will not always agree to a favorable plea deal. Watch out for any prosecutor with a sh*t-eating grin when discussing case settlement negotiations. No grin is needed when anyone and everyone is above-board in what they say and do. Moreover, even if a plea offer from a prosecutor at first blush seems favorable or even very good, that does not mean not to work towards a better plea deal, and also means at all times to be fully trial ready, so as always to be effective in courtroom battle and for negotiating prosecutors to know the criminal defense threat they face if they do not settle the case for what the defendant wants.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan Katz knows what is at stake for you, your liberty, and career if you are convicted of and sentenced for a criminal allegation. Jon Katz pursues your best defense against Virginia DUI, felony and misdemeanor prosecutions. Learn the great things Jon can bring to your defense, by scheduling a confidential in-person consultation at 703-383-1100