Justice and Due Process

Defendants Can Now Make More Informed Decisions About Plea Bargains

At the core of every bargain is an assessment of whether benefits outweigh costs. Plea bargains are no different. Thanks to legislation promoted by the Libertas Institute, defendants are now in a better position to evaluate whether a plea bargain serves their interests. 

In 2021, Utah passed Senate Bill 216, requiring the Sentencing Commission to compile a guide of collateral consequences that can be imposed as a result of a conviction for a crime. Most people are aware that a criminal conviction can lead to fines and jail time. However, it is less widely known that being found guilty of any felony establishes grounds for divorce or that some domestic violence convictions will impact the right to possess a gun. The bill was designed to fill this potential knowledge gap.

The Sentencing Commission recently released the fruits of its considerable labor: a draft version of its collateral consequences guide. The guide is intended to be a comprehensive list of collateral consequences and the crimes for which they may be imposed. Given that the guide lists over 150 collateral consequences, it is a powerful tool to help defendants and their attorneys ensure they have thought through all the potential consequences of a plea, which might otherwise be overlooked. This is especially crucial given that many collateral consequences deal with the ability to be employed in professions ranging from athletic trainer to music therapist. 

Defendants hold the right to trial, and there are circumstances when waiving that right and accepting a plea bargain are in a defendant’s best interest. However, that is a weighty decision and should be made with complete information. The collateral consequences guide represents an important step in ensuring that this decision is fully informed.