Should you face white-collar crime charges in Virginia, the prosecutor may well offer you a favorable plea bargain that will negate the necessity of your going to trial. Forbes reports that while 90 percent of all federal defendants do in fact accept a plea bargain, this may not be in your best interests.

However favorable any given plea bargain may be, plea bargains have negative consequences as well, including the following:

  • You give up your Sixth Amendment right to a trial by a jury of your peers.
  • You have to plead guilty to the charges brought against you.
  • You cannot later change your mind about having accepted the plea bargain.
  • You give up your right to appeal your conviction on virtually all grounds.

Supreme Court changes

In deciding the recent case of Class v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court gave new hope to convicted white-collar crime defendants who later want to rescind their plea bargains. Per the Court’s holding, you can now challenge your plea bargain on appeal if you challenge it on constitutional grounds.

Mr. Class, the defendant in this case, lived in North Carolina where he had a valid license to carry his gun in the locked safe of his Jeep. On a visit to Washington, D.C., Mr. Class parked his Jeep, gun on board, in a no-firearms zone. He received a ticket therefor and subsequently entered into a plea bargain whereby he plead guilty in exchange for probation and a quite low fine.

Nevertheless, Mr. Class decided to challenge the plea bargain on appeal, alleging the following:

  • The Washington, D.C. statute prohibiting fire arms violated his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
  • He did not know about the statute at the time he parked his Jeep in the no-firearms zone.
  • The parking lot sign violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights.
  • His North Carolina gun license allowed him to carry his gun in the locked safe of his Jeep.
  • The plea bargain he entered into did not specifically preclude his right of appeal.

Once the case reached the Supreme Court, the Justices overruled the appellate court’s denial of Mr. Class’s right to appeal his conviction, stating that “Class did not relinquish his right to appeal the District Court’s constitutional determinations simply by pleading guilty.”

Thus if you sign a plea agreement in your white-collar crime prosecution that you wish later to challenge, the decision in the Class case allows you to appeal as long as you challenge by means of constitutional issues.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.