What Are Plea Agreements in the Military, and Should You Enter Into One?

attorneys meeting at a table

Understanding plea agreements.

Plea agreements are used in the military to resolve charges against service members. They allow for some charges to be dropped in exchange for an agreement to plead guilty or no contest to a lesser charge. This can save the soldier from a court martial and could lead to a reduction in their sentence. 

The process is simple: the service member pleads guilty to a charge, and the military agrees to dismiss the charge with prejudice, meaning it cannot be re-opened after the plea agreement.

However, plea agreements may have serious consequences for the soldier, including loss of benefits and discharge from the military. If you are considering entering into a plea agreement, here are the things the Norfolk military defense lawyers at the Griffin Law Firm would like you to know.

What Is a Plea Agreement, and What Are the Benefits of Entering Into One?

As we just mentioned, plea agreements are a type of plea bargain in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient punishment. There are many benefits to entering into a plea agreement, including: 

a. Reduced sentence – The defendant may receive a reduced sentence if they plead guilty, regardless of the severity of the crime. This can be especially beneficial if the defendant has no prior criminal record or is otherwise low-risk. 

b. Reduced time – Some defendants may be able to reduce their time spent behind bars by entering into a plea agreement. This can be helpful if the defendant is looking at significant jail time or needs to meet other obligations while incarcerated. 

c. Less stress – Facing a trial can be an emotionally and mentally challenging process, and being able to enter into a plea agreement can help minimize this stress.

The Process: How Do Plea Agreements Work in the Military Justice System?

When a service member is charged with a crime, the first step in the military justice system is to receive a referral from their chain of command. A military head will then review the evidence and decide whether or not to refer the case for trial by general court-martial. If the case is referred for trial, the accused will have the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. 

A plea agreement can be reached at this stage between the prosecution and defense teams. A plea agreement is an agreement between the prosecution and defense teams that outlines what evidence will be used at trial, how it will be used and any possible sentencing enhancements. Plea agreements are often based on evidence that has already been gathered by investigators.

The Risks: What Are the Possible Risks Associated With Plea Agreements?

Military members are often pressured to plea-bargain their cases in order to receive a lesser sentence, or avoid a trial altogether. However, there are often risks associated with plea agreements that military members may not be aware of. For example, if a plea agreement includes a guilty plea, the military member could be discharged dishonorably. Additionally, if military member admits to a crime they did not commit, they may face additional legal and social consequences. 

As such, it is important for military members to be aware of the risks associated with pleading guilty and seek counsel before making a decision.

Should You Enter Into a Plea Agreement in the Military Justice System?

First, make sure you understand the terms of the agreement. The punishment that may be imposed if you violate the terms of the agreement may be more severe than the punishment that would be given for the same offense if convicted at trial. 

Second, be sure that you have enough information to make an informed decision. You need to know what crimes are being charged, what potential punishments are available under the agreement, and what your options would be if you refused to plead guilty. 

Finally, and most importantly, talk with a Virginia military defense attorney at the Griffin Law Firm about your options before entering into a plea agreement.

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