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Plea Bargains & Your Sixth Amendment Rights: What You Need To Know

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On August 21, Courthouse News Service covered an important story regarding the pervasive lack of counsel in some of the nation’s lowest courts, and what a significant issue this has become in terms of violating individuals’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

In many of these courts, prosecutors negotiate with defendants who represent themselves and are not completely aware of what, exactly, is at stake, with judges never verifying whether or not defendants waived their right to counsel, as well as failing to determine whether defendants are even able to pay the fines the court levies.

The Problem of Plea Bargains

One can see just how people living at or near the poverty line might have no choice but to take a prosecutor’s plea deal and plead guilty to avoid jail time; as a week in jail is enough to ruin job prospects and make it impossible for those living check-to-check to get food on the table and pay rent.

Although prosecutors are prohibited from providing legal advice to unrepresented defendants, many are seen strongly encouraging these defendants whose interests are the opposite of the state’s to settle their cases through plea bargains. And yet, according to a new report put together by various court watchers with the American Bar Association Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice, what these defendants are typically never told is that taking a prosecutor’s plea deal and pleading guilty leads to a host of other problems, such as being unable to live in public housing or take out student loans.

Judicial Conduct Implicated

Unfortunately, this issue does not simply involve prosecutors failing to abide by the rules of professional conduct, but judges as well: Each Code of Judicial Conduct requires that judges inform defendants of their right to a lawyer and determine if defendants’ waivers of counsel are knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. It is simply not enough for a defendant to sign a paper waiving their right to an attorney. And yet, in the courts observed, witnesses routinely watched judges fail to inform defendants adequately of their right to a lawyer and determine whether their waivers followed these requirements.

Indigency Affidavit Forms

The court watchers also noted that although the court’s clerk kept an indigency affidavit form which defendants could fill out to prove that they could not pay the fines that the court handed down, the form itself was not made available; rather, only if a defendant knew about the form’s existence and specifically requested it could they fill it out, suggesting that the courts would rather not know which defendants could not afford to cover the fines.  

Reach Out to Our Florida Criminal Defense & Civil Rights Lawyers

Although the report focused on Nashville, Tennessee, unfortunately, this is an issue that is pervasive in courts around the country. Before you accept any kind of plea deal, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away, noting that in most circumstances, these initial consultations are free of charge.

Contact the Baez Law Firm in Florida today to schedule your free consultation today. We have a national reputation for providing the very best legal services.

Resources:

courthousenews.com/observers-find-violations-nashville-misdemeanor-court/

courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/NashvilleMisdemeanor.pdf

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