Once you sign a plea deal, there is no turning back.
Plea deals often come into play in Florida criminal prosecutions. Generally, a deal offers benefits to both sides: the prosecutors no longer have to go through with a full-blown trial on the merits of their case, while a defendant who has a good chance of being convicted can seek to minimize the accompanying prison sentence or other punishment.
Yet, as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida's ruling in U.S. v. Allbritton shows, a criminal defendant offered a plea deal must seriously consider it before making a decision, because he likely won't be able to change his mind later.
In 2004, Robert Allbritton was charged with three counts of selling methamphetamine to an undercover police officer. Prior to trial, he entered a plea agreement through which he agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. Allbritton plead guilty and was later sentenced to 188 months in jail by a federal magistrate judge, who found that Allbritton qualified for enhanced sentencing as a career offender based on a prior aggravated assault conviction.
Allbritton later filed an action in the Middle District, arguing that he should not have been considered a career offender at the sentencing phase, in part because the state wrongly classified the prior crime as a felony.
The District Court denied Allbritton's motion to vacate the conviction, finding that he waived his right to appeal by signing the plea agreement. The agreement clearly provided that Allbritton "expressly waives the right to appeal defendant's sentence or to challenge it collaterally...on any ground..."
Furthermore, according to the Court, Allbritton also waived his right to challenge the sentence by not directly appealing it. By filing a new action to vacate the sentence, rather than filing an appeal of the sentence, the Court said that Allbritton procedurally defaulted on his arguments, including those related to his status as a career offender. The Court cited Mckay v. United States, in which the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a criminal defendant who plead guilty - but, did not sign a plea agreement - defaulted on his claims challenging his career offender status by failing to raise them in a direct appeal.
Finally, the Court found that Allbritton's claim that he was innocent of the aggravated assault crime was without merit. "For the actual innocence exception to apply in the noncapital sentencing context, a movant must show that he is factually innocent of the conduct or underlying crime that serves as the predicate for the enhanced sentence," the Court explained, quoting McKay. Here, Allbritton did not assert that he didn't commit the assault, only that it was wrongly classified as a felony.
If you have been charged with drug trafficking, you will need an effective, knowledgeable attorney who will aggressively defend your interests and consider every aspect of any possible plea deal. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help assess your situation, protect your rights, negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf, and reach the best possible outcome for your case.
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