The vast majority of criminal prosecutions in Mississippi and around the country are resolved when the defendants enter into plea agreements with state prosecutors or U.S. attorneys. About 94% of state criminal convictions and 97% of federal criminal convictions are obtained in this way. When defendants are prosecuted in federal court, the plea-bargaining process is governed by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
U.S. attorneys and criminal defense lawyers negotiate
The discussions held between U.S. attorneys and criminal defense lawyers are known as proffer meetings. When a deal that both parties can accept has been reached, a document called a proffer agreement is drawn up. Individuals accused of committing federal crimes usually agree to plead guilty in return for lenient sentencing recommendations, and U.S. attorneys may make generous plea offers to avoid the risks of going to trial. U.S. attorneys also make attractive offers to encourage defendants to provide information about their accomplices or coconspirators.
District court judges review proffer agreements
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the sentences handed down in federal criminal prosecutions must be substantively reasonable. This means that sentences must be sufficient sufficient but not harsher than necessary. Most of the sentences handed down for federal crimes are within the ranges found in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. When they are not, district court judges must state on the record why they deviated from the official guidelines.
Keeping the wheels of justice moving
Plea agreements keep the wheels of justice moving. Most state and federal criminal cases are resolved by plea agreements because all of the parties involved benefit. Defendants receive more lenient sentences, prosecutors eliminate risk and judges keep their dockets manageable. When prosecutors make offers that are accepted by criminal defense attorneys, the ensuing agreements are reviewed and approved by judges.