The vast majority of criminal cases in Georgia and around the country are resolved at the negotiating table long before a trial is scheduled. Prosecutors make plea offers even when the evidence they have is overwhelming to speed up the process and reduce their caseloads, and defendants accept them because they usually include charging or sentencing concessions. This negotiation process is what keeps the wheels of the criminal justice system turning, but there are situations where defendants may regret their decisions and seek to appeal their plea agreements.
Waiving constitutional rights
This can be difficult because defendants who enter into plea agreements or plead no contest to criminal charges effectively waive their right to file an appeal. This may seem unfair, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that rights including the right to appeal can be waived during plea negotiations. Courts are generally reluctant to hear these appeals because they want to avoid situations where defendants enter into plea agreements and then change their minds after they are sentenced.
However, this does not mean plea agreements can never be appealed. Plea agreements must be entered into voluntarily and knowingly, which means they may be invalid if the defendant was not given all of the facts or was coerced into accepting the terms. An appeal in this situation would usually be based on the ineffective counsel of the criminal defense attorney involved, but this is a very difficult position to argue successfully. In 2012, the Supreme Court rejected this argument in a case involving a man who declined a plea offer because his attorney assured him that the prosecutor would be unable to establish intent. The man was subsequently convicted of murder. This may have been bad advice, but the nation’s highest court did not believe that it amounted to ineffective counsel.
The decisions made during plea negotiations can cast a very long shadow, which is why defendants should consider offers carefully before they accept them. They should also ensure that their attorneys explain all of the ramifications of entering into a plea agreement, which include the waiving of the right to file an appeal.