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An overview of the plea agreement process in Tennessee

When a person is accused of a crime, sometimes it is in their best interests to enter into a plea agreement rather than go through a jury trial. In Tennessee, it is permissible for the district attorney and the lawyer of the accused to engage in discussions without the involvement of the court in order to reach a plea agreement. In a plea agreement, the accused can agree to plead guilty to either the charges against them or to a lesser offense, in exchange for certain acts.

One of these acts is having the charges against the accused dismissed. Another act is having the district attorney general recommend a specific sentence or permit the accused to request a specific sentence. Finally, the district attorney can agree that a certain sentence is an appropriate choice.

Once an agreement is reached, it must be disclosed. This is usually done in open court as part of the record. Also, unless there is good cause otherwise, the parties to the case should make known to the court that a plea agreement has been reached either when the accused is arraigned or some other time prior to the commencement of the trial.

The judge will then consider the plea agreement. In some situations, the judge can either accept the plea agreement, reject the plea agreement or put off deciding on the plea agreement until he or she is able to review the presentence report. Also, in some situations, the judge must let the accused know that a plea agreement cannot be withdrawn if the judge decides not to approve it.

If the judge does find the plea agreement acceptable, he or she will let the accused know that it will be part of the judgment and the accused's sentence will reflect what is in the plea agreement. If the judge does not find the plea agreement acceptable, then the judge will let the accused know that the judge is not bound by the agreement, that the accused can withdraw the plea agreement and that if the accused decides not to withdraw the plea agreement the outcome of the case may be harsher than what was agreed upon in the plea. If a person is in a position where a plea agreement is an option, they should discuss the matter with a criminal defense attorney to determine what course of action to take.

Source: tncourts.gov, "Rule 11: Pleas," accessed Dec. 17, 2017

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Mathis, Bates & Klinghard PLLC
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