In Santos v. State, the Florida Court of Appeals for the Fourth District explains once again that a person facing criminal charges typically only has one opportunity to accept or reject a plea deal and usually won’t be able to undo the decision after a conviction.
Santos was arrested and charged with trafficking in cocaine and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine in Florida and was convicted on both counts following a trial in March 2008. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Seeking to undo the conviction, Santos later claimed that he didn’t know that an alleged co-conspirator, Carlos Aldarondo, would testify against him until a prosecuting attorney mentioned it during her opening argument. Because he wasn’t aware of this information prior to trial, Santos claimed that he didn’t have an opportunity to fairly evaluate his case. He claimed that his representation at trial was therefore deficient and changed the outcome of the case, arguing that he would have accepted a plea deal offered by the state had he known that it intended to call Aldarondo as a witness.
Affirming the conviction, the Fourth District concluded that Santos’s claim that he didn’t know Aldarondo would testify was “demonstrably false.” Court records showed that the prosecution had listed Aldarondo. Meanwhile, the appeals court said the lead prosecutor told the trial court prior to trial that she had offered Aldarondo a plea deal under which he would have served a mandatory minimum of three years in jail in exchange for pleading guilty on the charges. During voir dire, defense counsel told the trial court that he had presented the deal to Santos, but that Santos rejected it.
But that wasn’t all, according to the court. In fact, the trial court proceeded to question Santos himself about the plea deal. The trial judge asked Santos whether he understood that he could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges, to which he responded affirmatively.
The court explained that a criminal defendant can seek to overturn a conviction as a result of a “lost plea offer” where the plea deal wasn’t conveyed to the defendant, wasn’t properly explained or where a defense lawyer wrongly advised the client to reject the deal. None of those circumstances were present in this case, the court said. “The record…demonstrates that a generous plea was available, that a co-defendant who had taken a plea was a potential witness, that Santos knew about the strong possibility of this testimony at least by the beginning of voir dire, and that Santos rejected the plea…” the District Court found.
If you have been charged with drug trafficking, it is imperative that you fully understand the charges against you, the penalties you’re facing and your options and available defense strategies. You’ll also need an effective, knowledgeable attorney who can aggressively defend your interests and consider every aspect of any possible plea deal. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help assess your situation, protect your rights, negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf, and reach the best possible outcome for your case.
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