Plea Negotiations in State Court vs. Federal Court
One of the biggest differences between federal court and state court is the role played by judges in resolving a case.
For example, a defendant charged with a felony in San Diego's downtown superior court (i.e. state court) will appear in court for a "Readiness Hearing" days after their arraignment. The hearing begins in the judge's chambers (i.e. the judge's office) where defense counsel and the assistant district attorney discuss the facts of the case with the judge. The judge often indicates a sentence he or she has in mind were the defendant to plead guilty on that day.
In other words, the judge plays an active role in trying to resolve the case so as to free up the court's caseload. Because the decision of whether to plead guilty always belongs to the defendant, the parties then go on the record and confirm whether or not an agreement has been reached.
Federal courts are much different. The federal judges remove themselves from the plea negotiation process completely. According to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, "the court must not participate in these discussions." Id. Thus, judges do not have the opportunity to offer their thoughts on the case, and plea negotiations take place between the United States Attorney's Office and defense counsel, exclusively.
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