Are Judges Required to Respect a Plea Agreement?

The procedures of the criminal justice system are long and complicated. That’s the very thing that makes them so expensive. When it comes to plea agreements, they aren’t just used in order to make things easier for all parties concerned, but to avoid the expense that a lengthy trial can bring.


Judge Roles

The short answer to the question of whether or not a judge is required to respect a plea agreement depends on your definition of the term “respect”. If “respect” means agree with or oblige, then no, the judge is under no obligation to implement the terms of the plea agreement. However, at the state level, a judge may choose to be involved in creating the plea agreement, but can never do so on the federal level. Not only does a judge not have to accept a plea agreement, the judge may not even accept a plea of anything but not guilty from a defendant, provided the judge doesn’t believe the defendant has a full understanding of the plea itself, the charges, or the process.

Remember it is the judge’s job to use unbiased opinion to impose a verdict or sentence on someone who is accused of a crime. To that end, the judge must use all available resources, including courtroom conduct, history of the accused, cited cases, lawyer presentation, witness accounts, and evidence to impose a verdict or sentence. The judge may acknowledge the plea agreement without using it to impose a sentence, such as may be the case when the plea agreement does not impose a harsh enough sentence based on a history of repeated offenses.


Potential Issues with Plea Agreements

In many cases, a plea agreement can significantly reduce the number of hours spent on a case. While this is cost effective, it may not always take into account all of the elements of a case and the result doesn’t always adhere to what the victim expects.

One of the problems with plea agreements is that they do not always act in the interest of the victims. For example, a family member of a murder victim may not agree with the plea agreement, but may not realize the importance of the fact that the accused is obligated to provide information concerning other people involved in murders related to this one. While the agreement serves the justice system well and the accused may get a reduced sentence out of it, the victim will not feel that justice has been served.


In short, it is left up to the discretion of the judge whether or not the plea agreement can be used. The judge makes the final decision if the accused is agreeable to the plea bargain. If you would like to learn more about plea agreements or other legal details, contact Federal Criminal Law Center for more information by calling 404-633-3797 or using the Contact Us form on the website.