Rejecting Plea Deals for Violent Sexual Offenders in Wisconsin
When facing criminal charges, defendants always have a choice of whether to plead guilty or not guilty. Often, that choice will be influenced by a plea agreement that the prosecution may have offered to the defendant. In a plea agreement, the prosecutor may try to persuade the defendant to avoid the risk of trial by agreeing to plead guilty with the understanding that the state will recommend a reduced sentence in exchange for the guilty plea. This saves the state the time and expense of trial, and it ensures that the defendant is punished, while protecting the defendant from the possibility of maximum jail time. However, just because the defendant and the prosecution agree to a plea deal does not mean that the court has to accept it. In a recent case before the Seventh Circuit, the court affirmed the rejection of a plea agreement when the district court determined that the sentence agreed to was not sufficiently strict.
In United States v. Viren, Mr. Viren was charged with possession of child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor after his girlfriend reported that he had raped her and that he was in possession of child pornography. Facing the possibility of up to 50 years in prison, Mr. Viren signed a plea deal with the government under which he would plead guilty in exchange for reducing the maximum amount of time in jail that he could face to 360 months. At the time that Mr. Viren entered his guilty plea, the court warned him that it could reject the plea agreement if it disagreed with the sentence, but, if so, it would offer Mr. Viren the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea. The court subsequently reviewed the pre-sentencing reports and the plea agreement and decided to reject the agreement. It explained that it could not accept the 360-month cap on maximum sentencing. The court later granted Mr. Viren’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Mr. Viren later entered a separate guilty plea and was sentenced to 600 months on the first set of charges and 240 months on the second. Mr. Viren appealed, arguing that the district court had improperly rejected his plea agreement.
As the court noted, when plea agreements contain a specific limitation on sentencing, a court is free to accept or reject the plea agreement. If it chooses to reject the plea agreement, the court must explain why it is rejecting the agreement and provide the defendant the opportunity to withdraw the plea. Here, the appellate court held that the lower court satisfied both of these requirements. It clearly offered Mr. Viren an opportunity to withdraw his plea, which he accepted, and it explained to Mr. Viren that it was rejecting the plea because it could not agree with the cap on sentencing that was imposed. The appellate court further noted that the district court had explicitly warned Mr. Viren that this might happen if it did not agree with the plea deal. Accordingly, the appellate court held that there was no error in the district court’s rejection of the deal.
If you are a criminal defendant facing serious charges and the possibility of significant jail time, it can be very enticing to accept a plea deal from a prosecutor in order to avoid the possibility of a maximum sentence. However, it is important to remember that plea agreements are not ironclad. Particularly when they attempt to limit the ability of the court to sentence the defendant to a longer sentence, they may be overruled by the court. When considering strategy with your defense counsel, this is an important factor to consider. If you have been accused of possessing child pornography or another sex crime in Wisconsin, you should discuss your rights and plea options with an experienced Milwaukee sex crime lawyer as soon as possible. To speak with a knowledgeable Milwaukee criminal attorney today, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at (414) 271-6400.