What Is A Rule 11 Plea Agreement?
I often get questions about a “Rule 11” agreement - what is it and who is eligible to receive it? A Rule 11 plea agreement is a "binding" plea agreement. It is an agreement entered into by the parties for a certain sentence if the defendant pleads guilty to a specific criminal charge. A plea agreement under this rule binds the court to the terms of the agreement. In other words, the judge can not add, subtract, or alter the terms of a Rule 11 agreement. This differs from a non-binding agreement where the parties would each argue for the sentence they feel is appropriate and the judge would make the final determination. However, the court may be bound by the terms of a Rule 11 agreement but is not bound to accept the agreement - it has the power to accept or reject the agreement. If the plea is rejected by the court, any admissions made by the Defendant as part of the plea agreement will be withdrawn and will not be held against them in future proceedings. The defendant can then decided to proceed forward to trial or enter into a non-binding plea agreement.
There are pros and cons to Rule 11 agreements. The most obvious benefit is having the ability to negotiate your sentence without the risk that a judge will sentence you to something more sever after you have already admitted to the crime. Additionally, most people are comforted when they know what your sentence is going to be prior to appearing before the judge. Last, if you do not get the sentence you agreed upon, then you can withdraw your guilty plea and continue on to trial. On the other hand, in non-binding plea agreements the parties often come to a resolution that involves the prosecution limiting their recommendation to a certain sentence but allowing the defense to argue for less. In these instances, you may be able to convince the judge to order a more lenient sentence than you otherwise would have received under a Rule 11 agreement.
For the most part, determining who is eligible for a Rule 11 plea agreement and who is not will depend upon the judge and the severity of the charges. More often than not, Rule 11 agreements are found in misdemeanor cases, not felony cases. Occasionally a Rule 11 agreement will be accepted in a felony matter but most District Court Judges (those who handle felony matters) will not accept Rule 11 cases except in the rarest of instances, if at all. Some judges will not accept a Rule 11 agreement under any circumstances and some prosecutors will not enter into a Rule 11 agreement. In fact, certain jurisdictions around Idaho have an unwritten standing rule that Rule 11 agreements are not to be accepted, even in misdemeanor cases.