Most cases, civil or criminal end in a plea agreement. In fact, less than five percent (5%) of criminal cases go to trial. Indeed, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through a written plea agreement in which the defendant waives the right to trial and admits guilt of criminal activity in exchange for the most serious charge(s) being dropped by the District Attorney. Of course, the purpose of entering into a plea agreement from the defense perspective is to reduce the punishment the defendant may receive from the sentencing judge. A defendant my also seek a plea agreement to quickly resolve the case and avoid the risk and stress of trial. The District Attorney seeks plea agreements to guarantee the conviction and to evade the burdens of trial.
The decision to seek or accept a plea agreement is within the defendant's complete control; however, it is a lawyer's obligation to fully explore the option and explain all the risks and benefits of entering into a plea agreement or going to trial. The defendant's choice to plead guilty should also be a highly informed decision and made only after the criminal defense lawyer fully reviews and analyzes the entire case and thoroughly discussed it with the defendant.
In Luzerne County, sentencing following a plea agreement is generally left to the judge's discretion. In other words, a plea agreement that includes a pre-determined sentence agreed upon by the defense attorney and District Attorney are rare in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.
If a defendant decided to plead guilty a plea date is scheduled. At the guilty plea hearing the judge will evaluate the defendant to determine if the plea is knowingly and voluntarily entering the guilty plea. After the plea is entered the defendant may be sentenced immediately or sentencing can scheduled to allow the judge to further review the case and the defendant's background through a Pre-Sentencing Investigation Report (PSI). A PSI report is prepared by the court's probation department and provides an outline of the crime, the defendant's personal background and social history, and the defendant's criminal record. In most cases, both the defendant and the victim are contacted by probation to assist in the completion of the PSI. If the sentencing hearing is scheduled a defendant who is free on bail will usually remain free until the date of sentencing.