Will you be punished for going to trial?

In our country, you are entitled to a trial if you are arrested and charged with a crime. You have that right under the United States Constitution and under Florida’s Constitution. The state attorney has to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Even though you are not supposed to be punished by going to trial, that sometimes happens.

Judges sometimes enter into plea negotiations before trial. A judge may make a “court offer” if the case cannot be resolved with the prosecutor. Let’s say that a judge makes a court offer of probation before trial and the defendant rejects it and wants a trial. If the jury returns a verdict of guilty on the charge, the judge should not sentence the defendant to something higher than probation if no new bad facts came out at trial. In other words, unless the judge heard something he or she didn’t know until the trial, the harsher sentence is considered vindictive.

There is an analysis that is done to determine if a judge’s sentence is vindictive. The analysis asks:

1. whether the judge initiated the plea discussions
2. whether the judge, through comments on the record, appears to have departed from the role of an impartial arbiter by urging acceptance of a plea
3. whether the judge implied that the sentence hinged on future decisions of the defendant
4. was there a disparity between the plea offer and the sentence exposed
5. was there a lack of any facts on the record that explained the reason for the increased sentence?