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Witness for the prosecution may lose plea deal

When you make a deal with the prosecution to testify in exchange for a lesser sentence, you're expected to keep your end of the bargain.

The prosecution in a recent Louisiana case is hesitating to honor the plea agreement that had been worked out with the co-defendant of a man on trial for felony murder in a botched drug robbery case that has gripped the local media.

The co-defendant did testify, and the other defendant was convicted. However, the co-defendant's testimony didn't quite meet the requirements specified in his plea deal. He "forgot" some key details while testifying.

Plea bargains that offer reduced sentences in exchange for testimony against other defendants are hardly anything new -- they're particularly common in drug cases where someone lower on the distribution ring can parlay his or her knowledge of those higher up in the business into a lighter sentence.

Nationally, about 25 percent of those serving federal time for drug offenses traded information for shorter prison terms. Advocates of the system say the system helps put more dangerous felons behind bars. Detractors of the system suggest that defendants often lie just to get a reduced sentence, trading on fictions that suit the prosecutor's goals.

Whichever the case, a plea deal that reduces the sentence you serve for a drug conviction or another crime is likely to be a good deal if you can get it. Some defendants see their sentences cut in half in exchange for their testimony.

However, if you fail to keep your end of the deal and provide less-than-wholly accurate or complete testimony at trial, weakening the prosecution's case, you aren't likely to find much forgiveness when it comes time to hear your own sentence -- even if the prosecution was successful in convicting the other defendant.

In this case, the prosecution wants the co-defendant who made the plea bargain to be sentenced by the trial court judge who oversaw the felony murder trial in which he testified. That way, the judge can assess whether the prisoner kept his bargain.

Cases like this illustrate not only the value of a plea deal in exchange for testimony but how quickly those deals can vanish. It's important to remember that no plea deal is completely guaranteed until the judge makes it final.

A criminal defense attorney can provide more information on plea deals and whether you have a chance at one in your own case.

Source: nwitimes.com, "Man testifies at murder trial, but state asks: Was it enough?," Steve Garrison, May 22, 2017

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