Cobbs Agreement, Plea Bargain, Sentence Bargain

There are several types of criminal charge and sentence agreements in the State of Michigan:

A Cobbs agreement is a practice in Michigan criminal law Courts, based upon the case of People v Cobbs, 443 Mich 276 (1993), which allows a Judge to make an agreement with a Defendant concerning the sentence the Court will impose if the Defendant pleads guilty or no contest. Typically after a Defendant tenders a guilty or no contest plea pursuant to People v. Cobbs he or she is referred to the probation department for a presentence investigation and given a date to return for sentencing. At the presentence investigation the probation department obtains information concerning the conviction offense, a statement from the victim, the Defendant’s prior criminal and traffic related history, level of education, work history, alcohol and substance abuse history, family background, assets, and debts. The probation typically orders a drug and/or alcohol test as part of its investigation. The information collected by the probation department is placed into a sentencing report for the Judge, Prosecutor, Defense Counsel, and the Defendant to read and correct if necessary. If the Court cannot follow the Cobbs agreement the Defendant is allowed to withdraw his or her plea and proceed to trial, or enter into a new Cobbs agreement with the Court. If the matter proceeds to trial, the jury is not allowed to hear about the plea entered pursuant to People v Cobbs unless the Defendant elects to testify and that testimony is different from what he or she told the Court previously under oath during the taking of the plea. Not all Courts will entertain Cobbs agreements – different Judges have their own judicial philosophy and will not negotiate with a Defendant concerning sentencing. Some Judges limit their Cobbs agreement to staying within sentencing guidelines (which is what the Judge is legally obligated to do anyways. A Judge can only sentence outside of the guideline range if substantial and compelling reasons exist to allow for the deviation, which does not exist in the vast majority of cases). Furthermore, some Courts will condition the Cobbs agreement on the Defendant staying out of any further trouble, appearing at Court dates, and not violating the terms of his or her bond. If the Defendant does not follow these conditions, he or she is not allowed to withdraw his or her plea, and the Judge imposes the sentence it deems proper (which may be outside the Cobbs understanding.

A plea bargain is an agreement reached between the Prosecutor and the Defendant that if the Defendant pleads guilty or no contest to a particular criminal charge other charges will be dismissed or reduced in severity. Not all Prosecutor’s offices offer plea bargains. Sometimes a Prosecutor’s office will not offer a plea bargain based upon the philosophy of the Prosecutor, the nature of the charge, the opinion of the police department, the opinion of the alleged victim, and the Defendant’s prior history. Different counties within Michigan can have radically different positions concerning the plea bargain that they may be willing, or not willing, to offer. Some Prosecutors are not willing to allow a Cobbs agreement or a sentence bargain as a condition of an offered and accepted plea bargain.  For any criminal charge related negotiation a skillful, experienced criminal defense lawyer is a necessity.

A sentence bargain is an agreement between a Prosecutor and a Defendant as to the sentence the Defendant will receive if he or she pleads guilty or no contest. Some Court view sentencing as solely at the discretion of the Judge and will not honor sentence bargains.