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Fairfax opinion letter explains rejection of criminal defendant’s Alford plea

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Fairfax opinion letter addresses the reasons for the judge’s rejection of a sexual assault plea deal

Fairfax opinion letters from Circuit Court judges — as with such opinion letters throughout the state — bind no judges, but can still act as persuasive authority, and certainly provides further insight into the Virginia judge writing the opinion. As a Fairfax Criminal lawyer, I have handled hundreds of plea deals (not all merit going to trial if a desirable settlement is reached), and welcome when a judge honestly explains his or her reason for accepting a deal between the parties.

Virginia prosecutors should not plea bargain on the basis of what the judge might reject (or not)

Many times, a prosecutor will tell me “I will not make such a plea offer, because the judge will not accept it” or “The police officer in the case [or the alleged victim] opposes such a plea deal, and I am not going to enter a deal that they oppose.” Yet, when the police officer does recommend more leniency than the prosecutor originally offered, some Virginia commonwealth’s attorneys will then declare their independence in making such decisions. Prosecutors should be resolute in the path that plea negotiations take in a criminal prosecution, even despite Fairfax opinion letters addressing judicial discretion concerning sentencing. This means they should not refrain from making a plea offer that the defendant and prosecutor like.

Why does the Fairfax opinion letter in the Amparado case reject the parties’ agreed sentence?

According to the Fairfax opinion letter from Judge Bellows, the defendant here — Rey Oraa Amparado — was accused via a four-count indictment of the damning misdeed of raping a child several times, including when under thirteen years old. A Virginia rape conviction carries up to life in prison when the victim is under 13 years old. Amparado lived with the victim’s mother, and — if the teen’s allegations are are true — the defendant made the victim’s life a living hell. Nonetheless, concerned about delays in obtaining and providing the defense with discovery and possible Brady exculpatory evidence, concerns about the lead police officer’s delays in making such material available; and concerns about the believability of the victim to the jury, even though the prosecutor had told the judge the view that the complainant was telling the truth.

The Fairfax opinion letter shows that Amparado’s Fairfax public defender lawyers made a great achievement in negotiating the case to a dismissal of two counts, and a plea to an amended charge of aggravated sexual battery for the remaining two counts, and a 40 year prison sentence suspending all but 3 years to serve in incarceration. The parties reached no agreement on the timelength of supervised probation. The prosecutor told the judge that the victim and her mother were angry about the case outcome, but did not register an objection to the case proceedings. Judge Bellows rejected the plea deal, after pointing out that Amparado’s agreed sentence of three years active incarceration did not reflect the gravity of his misconduct nor the severe psychological harm this incident caused the defendant. Moreover, the judge pointed out the lack of remorse ever to have been expressed by the defendant.

When a Virginia criminal court judge rejects a proposed binding sentence, the defendant may withdraw the guilty plea, and schedule a trial before a different judge

The Fairfax opinion letter shows that Amparado was not forced to proceed before the same judge after Judge Bellows rejected the sentencing aspect of the plea agreement. It can be better to proceed with a new judge who did not know the details of the plea deal.

Would a different Fairfax criminal court judge have accepted Amparado’s sentencing agreement?

Yes, one or more Fairfax criminal court judges may have accepted Amparado’s plea agreement — despite the firm holding of Judge Bellows’s Fairfax letter opinion, but not Judge Bellows, before whom Amparado appeared for his Alford plea and sentencing dates.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan Katz has successfully defended thousands of clients charged with Virginia DUI,  felony and misdemeanoroffenses. Find out the positive criminal defense difference that Jon Katz can make in your case, through a free in-person consultation about your court-pending case, scheduled at 703-383-1100.