What is a pretrial agreement? Should I sign one before my court-martial?
Whether or not to enter into a pretrial agreement prior to your court-martial really depends on the facts of your case. A pretrial agreement, sometimes called a “PTA,” may be offered to an accused opting to plead guilty to the court-martial charges he is facing. In exchange for pleading guilty, sometimes the command will offer an accused a limitation or “cap” on his possible court-martial sentence. For example, in exchange for pleading guilty to drug possession charges, the command might offer an accused a sentence that includes no confinement at all. In addition to agreeing to plead guilty, an accused in a court-martial might also agree to other things in order to receive a cap on his sentence. For instance, an accused might agree to waive certain motions or certain objections if it makes strategic sense in his case. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a pretrial agreement going into your court-martial. One advantage is that you have a safety net of sorts because you know that you sentence will not be higher than what is agreed to in the pretrial agreement. Additionally, in a court-martial, if the military judge or panel gives you a sentence that is lower than that which you agreed to in your pretrial agreement, you actually get the lower sentence. One disadvantage to signing a pretrial agreement is that you will be forfeiting some of your rights. For instance, you may be forfeiting your right to plead not guilty, your right to be tried by a military panel, or your right to present certain motions in your court-martial. If you choose to enter into a pretrial agreement, you need an advocate by your side who has the experience to know how negotiate with the government and what terms to negotiate for. Recently, in an Air Force appeals case, U.S. v. Cron, an appellant argued that his pretrial agreement was too broad and that he forfeited too many rights. One of the many rights he forfeited was to waive “all future discovery” which he argued may have hindered his ability to present impeachment evidence. The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) agreed that the provisions in his pretrial agreement were broad and did have the effect of limiting the production of possible impeachment evidence, however the AFCCA determined that the pretrial agreement provisions did not violate public policy. Deciding whether or not to enter into a pretrial agreement prior to your court-martial is a difficult decision to make. I urge you not to make it alone. Each court-martial and each servicemember on trial is unique. I have the experience you need if you are facing a court-martial or other adverse military action. I also have a ton of appellate experience. Call me and we can talk about the specifics of your case. The call is free. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.