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What is a C Plea in federal court. I don’t understand.

A C Plea is just a negotiated guilty plea. Normally there are three types of guilty pleas in criminal law. A negotiated plea is where the parties agree on the sentence before the judge gets involved. If the judge does not accept the terms of the plea, the parties can withdraw the guilty plea and do something else. The second type of guilty plea is called an open plea. This is where the defendant simply pleas guilty and the sentence is entirely up to the judge. The third type of plea is sort of like an open plea, but its an open plea with a charge bargain added in. For example you are charged with seven crimes, and in the plea you will only be pleaing to one very minor crime, but there is no agreement on sentencing. The judge can then sentence you to whatever she likes, similar to an open plea.

The C Plea is a federal court term. Usually in federal court in a criminal matter everything is an open plea to every count of the indictment. After the defendant pleas guilty, there is an entire body of work on sentencing. Someone who is looking at 20 years in jail can get a sentence of 8 years or even lower, if they do everything the right way with sentencing. Occasionally, there will be a situation where the AUSA will agree to a sentence. When there is an agreement in federal court, that is a C Plea.

The reason it is called a C Plea is because under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), talks about agreed upon sentences ignoring the guidelines. Again, this is very unusual in federal court, so it has its own nickname. The rule in relevant part is as follows:

(C) agree that a specific sentence or sentencing range is the appropriate disposition of the case, or that a particular provision of the Sentencing Guidelines, or policy statement, or sentencing factor does or does not apply (such a recommendation or request binds the court once the court accepts the plea agreement).

In the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Federal Court), we almost never see a C Plea because the prosecutors office puts all the decisions on the judges and does not generally negotiate on time. Many of the indictments we have are white collar crimes, and the prosecutors will negotiate on items in the guilty plea agreement that effect the guidelines, but not under 11(c)(1)(C). Hope this helps.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.