From the initial arrest and charge to an eventual trial on the merits of the case, the criminal justice process can be a lengthy endeavor. Yet only a small percentage of criminal cases end up going to trial because it is so common for defendants to settle at some point with a plea deal. There are some very specific rules and procedures that govern plea negotiations (also called plea bargaining) and a proceeding called a 402 Conference is just one of them.
What Are Plea Negotiations?
If you are charged with a crime, your decision regarding whether you intend to plead guilty or not guilty is entirely up to you. In the event that you choose to have your attorney explore a possible plea deal with the prosecutor, there are typically two types of general plea negotiations that are undertaken, usually at the same time: sentence and charge negotiations. In sentence negotiations, a prosecutor may be willing to recommend a lighter sentence if the defendant pleads guilty to certain charges. Charge negotiations occur when a prosecutor agrees to drop, dismiss, reduce or lessen the severity of certain charges in exchange for a guilty plea.
Under some circumstances, a defendant may also be able to enter a “stipulation to the facts” which basically tells the court you do not want to contest the charges against you. Even though it may not technically serve as an admission of guilt, your attorney may still be able to negotiate a plea deal on your behalf.
What Is a 402 Conference?
Depending on your case, the judge may also directly participate in your plea negotiations. In this proceeding, your attorney, a prosecutor, and a judge will enter into a meeting known as a “402 conference” in which the judge will learn about your background and the charges against you. This is meant to be a negotiating tool that may hopefully keep the case from going to trial.
One thing to consider about 402 conferences is that the judge will hear a lot of personal information about you that would otherwise not be revealed unless the case was to later go to trial. That includes hearing about your criminal background, what witnesses are expected to say, and evidence that may or may not be later introduced in a court trial.
After the 402 conference ends, the judge will inform the attorneys of the sentence he or she would hand down if you were to plead guilty. You have the right to be informed of any decision made by a judge and you may reject or accept any negotiation that comes out of a 402 conference as it is not binding. But you may not request a substitution judge if you don’t like the results of the conference. If no plea bargain can be reached, you can still enter a blind plea, or elect to have your case proceed to trial, either as a bench or jury trial.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
It is crucial for the success of your case that you hire the right criminal defense attorney who knows how to work well with your judge and has a great track record of negotiating the best plea deals for clients. The right attorney will be able to properly evaluate the judge’s 402 conference recommendation and weight them against the strengths and weaknesses of your case, also advising you of what could happen if you were to go to trial. Every judge is different, but an experienced attorney will be able to help you navigate the complicated judicial process with your best interests in mind.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer Today
Despite everything you may see on television, it is much more typical for defendants to negotiate a deal, rather than proceed to trial. Although some cases are best left to trial, if you choose to explore possible negotiations, the criminal defense attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner and Associates LLC will always try to negotiate from a position of power in order to achieve the best case results. If you are charged with a crime, contact us right away at (312) 644-0444 for a free initial consultation at one of our convenient office locations, including our Arlington Heights or Chicago offices.