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What is an Open Guilty Plea?

June 2, 2021

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when an individual is charged with a crime, he or she has many options as to how to proceed with the case. In some circumstances, when an individual, through their attorney, decides that it is best not to pursue a trial, they may enter into an open guilty. For many first time offenders, it is often unclear exactly what an open guilty plea is.

Negotiated Guilty Plea vs. Open Guilty Plea

Generally, when an individual decides to enter into a guilty plea, there are two types they can enter in to. A negotiated guilty plea is when you, through your attorney, make an agreed upon sentence with the District Attorney's office that is presented to the Judge. In many cases, these negotiated guilty pleas are agreed upon due to the facts of your particular case and the determination made that it would be better to make a deal with the District Attorney’s office as opposed to entering into an open guilty plea before the Judge.

In some cases, agreements cannot be reached through your attorney and the District Attorney’s office and the determination is made that your sentence should be determined by the presiding judge. It is important to note that, not all judges will view your case in the same light and it is necessary you be aware of how your particular judge has ruled on similar cases in the past.

In open guilty plea sentencing, the Judge will also rely on the PA sentencing guidelines. The PA sentencing guielines (shown below) helps the Judge consider your sentence based on the offense gravity score and your prior record score. For example: if you commit a crime with an offense gravity score of 6 and you have a prior record score of 3, then the sentencing guidelines call for a period of incarceration from 12-18 months with +/- 6 months for mitigating and aggravating factors. So in this instance, if you have a lot of mitigating factors in your case, then the judge may only impose a sentence of 6-12 months but if you have a lot of aggravating factors in your case, the Judge may sentence you to 18-24 months. That is why it is essential to not only be aware of the possible jail time you are facing but whether or not you have a lot of mitigating evidence to present to the Judge.

Preparing for the Open Guilty Plea

When you go before the Judge for sentencing, your goal is to show him/her positive mitigating factors that will help convince the Judge to give you a lesser sentence than what the District Attorney’s office is asking for. Mitigating factors include:

  • proof of drug treatment;

  • employment history;

  • family structure;

  • military service;

  • mental/medical health issues; and

Before determining whether or not an open guilty plea is a viable option, you must consider whether or not you have mitigating factors (like the ones mentioned above) to present to the sentencing judge. If it appears that you lack mitigating factors, for whatever reason, it may be advisable to not put your fate in the hands of the Judge.

At an open guilty plea sentence, you may address the Court and inform the Judge as to why you deserve to be sentenced to a lesser penalty than what the District Attorney is advocating for. You also have the right to bring any witnesses who can testify as to your good character on your behalf (family members, priests, pastors, imams, community leaders, etc.). You should also be aware that if your criminal case involved any victims, they also have the right to come and speak as to what they believe the proper sentence should be (normally they will be in line with what the District Attorney’s office is recommending).

Who Should I Contact if I Have More Questions Regarding Open Guilty Pleas?

At The Town Law, we understand just how stressful facing criminal charges can be. With our vast experience handling criminal cases throughout Bucks County, Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania, we are well-equipped to ensure you get the best result possible with attentive attorneys by your side throughout the process. Contact our firm today for a free consultation. Our staff of experienced attorneys is dedicated to the best outcomes for all of our clients.