27 Nov 23

How Do Federal Plea Agreements Work in New York City?

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 06:57 pm

How Do Federal Plea Agreements Work in New York City?

Over 90% of federal criminal cases in the U.S. end in a guilty plea through plea bargaining. This involves negotiating with prosecutors to plead guilty in exchange for reduced charges or a lighter sentence. There are a few main types of plea deals:

  • Charge bargaining: Pleading guilty to lesser charges that carry lower penalties
  • Sentence bargaining: The prosecution recommends a more lenient sentence
  • Fact bargaining: Defendants admit to particular aspects of the crime

Plea bargains allow both sides to avoid the expense, uncertainty and time of a trial. For defendants, it means potentially facing less severe convictions and penalties. For prosecutors, it saves government resources and guarantees a conviction.

The Plea Bargain Process

In New York City federal cases, plea negotiations often start after charges are filed. Defense lawyers analyze the evidence and potential defenses. They negotiate with federal prosecutors regarding the charges and sentencing recommendations.

Both sides make offers and counteroffers until a tentative deal is struck. The U.S. Department of Justice must approve charge bargains and sentence bargains where federal sentencing guidelines are not followed.

The defendant then formally enters a guilty plea before a judge. However, plea agreements are not binding on the court – the judge makes the final determination of the conviction and sentence. Still, courts usually accept the terms unless they seem unfair or inappropriate.

Strategies for Negotiating Federal Plea Deals

Effective strategies for negotiating plea bargains in federal cases include:

  • Highlighting weaknesses in the prosecution’s case
  • Offering to cooperate with prosecutors in related investigations
  • Agreeing to pay restitution to victims
  • Volunteering for rehabilitation programs
  • Providing background details to show mitigating circumstances
  • Appealing to precedents from similar cases

The viability of different negotiation tactics depends on the individual federal prosecutors and judges involved. Experienced white collar federal defense lawyers in New York City have insight into which arguments may persuade the prosecution to reduce charges.

Should I Accept a Federal Plea Deal?

There are many factors to weigh when considering plea bargain offers in federal cases, including:

  • The likelihood of winning at trial
  • The potential penalty if convicted at trial
  • The strength of the evidence against you
  • The offered plea deal terms
  • Your prior record
  • Collateral consequences of pleading guilty
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An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can provide an objective assessment of these issues. They can also negotiate effectively with prosecutors to potentially obtain a favorable plea agreement.

What Are Potential Defenses in My Federal Case?

Some possible defenses in federal white collar cases include:

  • Duress: You only committed the crime because of threats against you or your family (Example)
  • Entrapment: Law enforcement induced you to commit a crime you otherwise wouldn’t have (Example)
  • Statute of limitations: Too much time has passed since the alleged crime (Example)

An experienced federal defense lawyer can assess if any defenses could get charges dismissed or lead to an acquittal at trial.

What to Expect at Different Stages

In federal criminal cases, you can expect:

  • Arrest: Posting bail, booking, fingerprints
  • Arraignment: Entering a plea (often not guilty initially)
  • Discovery: Reviewing the prosecution’s evidence
  • Plea negotiations: Discussing potential plea deals
  • Change of plea hearing: Entering a guilty plea if a deal is reached
  • Sentencing: Finding out your conviction and penalty

If no plea deal is reached, additional pre-trial conferences and a trial will occur. Your defense lawyer guides you through each phase.


Navigating federal plea bargains in New York City can be complex. The stakes are high. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can be invaluable in assessing your options, identifying defenses, negotiating effectively and advising you on the pros/cons of deals.