Pleadings & Multiplicity: Guilty Pleas in the Military

Pleadings & Multiplicity: Guilty Pleas in the Military

military-defense-lawyersMountain_Home_AFB_366th_operations_group_3F_15EsNaked guilty pleas

A naked plea

A naked plea is when your client pleads guilty to some or all of the charges on the charge sheet but without the protection of a pretrial agreement or a cap on the sentence. Before you, as a defense lawyer, enter into a naked plea, you should have a solid tactical reason for doing so. You should also carefully consider the pros and cons of pleading your client guilty and exposing him to the maximum punishment.

Many lawyers believe that if they plead their client guilty without the protection of a plea deal, then their client will gain special favor with the judge or jurors and will therefore receive a lighter sentence.

Defense lawyers often argue to the judge, “My client came in here today, without the benefit or protection of a pretrial agreement, and admitted to what he did.”

Unfortunately, this reasoning carries no weight with the judge or jury. They will sentence your client for what he is convicted of, taking into consideration the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the case.

If your only reason for entering into a naked plea is to perhaps gain the favor of the jury, then you are gambling with your client’s freedom, and you will likely lose that gamble.

When pleading naked should be considered

However, pleading naked should be considered in the following certain circumstances:

  1. When particular charges may spillover or taint the jury on other charges

In situations where the facts of a particular charge, like the use of drugs in the above case, would spillover and taint the jury on the other, more serious charges, a naked plea should be considered.

For example, if the jury heard that your Army Ranger client was also a drug user, they would not have thought twice when presented with the evidence that he was selling drugs as well. The problem with the naked plea in a situation like this is that the jury is going to know about the naked plea, regardless of whether they convict your client of the other charges at trial or not. They will then have to sentence your client for the drug use charges.

bestmilitarydefenseucmjdefenselawyer228If you do the naked plea and you are able to win acquittals on some or all of the remaining charges, then the jury is likely going to be upset that they did not know about the naked plea and will hold it against your client. This is particularly true in a case where the naked plea carries substantial jail time. In this case, even if you had won the additional drug distribution and BAH fraud charges, then the client would still be exposed to 5 years in confinement for the cocaine use charge.

  1. When you want to keep aggravating facts from the jury

Sometimes it is advisable to enter into a naked plea when you want to keep the aggravating facts from the panel and you know that the prosecution has a weak aggravation case.

For example, if your client is accused of crime that is particular aggravating, then you can do the following type of naked plea to possibly get a lighter sentence:

3. Pleading Naked Considered

Enter into a pre trial agreement and ask to plead guilty to the entire charge sheet. Then, at the last minute, if you know the prosecution will be unable to bring in the aggravating witnesses and evidence, request a military panel and plead guilty to the panel. In many cases, you can do this because plea negotiations go on until the day or two before trial. Using this technique, you can plead guilty to the charges, assuming you would be convicted if you went to trial. (Note: the above tactic will anger the SJA office and burn bridges with the prosecutors.)

Alternatives to pleading naked

You will gain no favor with the jury if your client pleads guilty before sentencing. If your client pleads guilty, then they have no doubt in their minds that your client is, in fact, guilty. Your client will receive no leniency on his sentence by pleading guilty.

On the other hand, if you contest the charges in front of a jury, then there may be lingering doubts about the defendant’s guilt in the minds of some of the jurors. If a juror voted for not guilty in the findings portion, that juror will likely be more lenient when it comes to sentencing.