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Doctor takes last-minute stand against plea deal

It's pretty well known that most criminal trials these days end in a plea deal before they get to trial -- but not every deal ends the way that's expected.

That's what happened in a West Virginia courtroom when a doctor accused of essentially running a pill mill stood up to accept a plea deal. Instead, he said, "Not guilty."

That wasn't what the prosecution or judge expected. Originally faced with 17 counts of knowingly and intentionally distributing oxycodone not for legitimate medical purposes and three counts of improperly distributing oxycodone that resulted in the deaths of patients, the doctor had pleaded "not guilty" to all charges in December, 2016.

Somewhere in the intervening time, the prosecution made him an offer they thought he couldn't refuse: He could plead guilty to one count of distribution. The government also agreed to stop investigating a property transfer and an alleged marijuana possession. Initially, the doctor must have decided that he should take the offer, so the U.S. Assistant Attorney's office asked for the hearing.

At some point, the doctor must have reconsidered, perhaps when he got to thinking about the consequences of a plea. Now, he's chosen to gamble with a conviction.

Perhaps one of these factors changed the doctor's mind about accepting the plea:

-- Most plea deals include a waiver of appeal rights. If someone regrets the consequences of a plea later, there's little that can be done to fight it.

-- It's a guaranteed criminal record. That can be a life sentence of its own for someone who may hope to regain his medical license, perhaps in another state. At the very least, the felony conviction will follow him wherever he goes, no matter what employment he seeks.

-- The possible penalty may have been more than he could willingly accept if he genuinely believes in his own innocence. Some people accept a plea even if they are innocent because it will get them out of jail faster than a conviction, but others feel morally bound to fight the charges.

Ultimately, only you can decide if a plea deal is worth taking -- even your attorney can't tell you which to choose. He or she can, however, explain all the potential consequences of accepting or refusing a given plea deal. For more information, talk to a criminal defense attorney today.

Source: The Register-Herald, "Kostenko backs out of plea deal," Wendy Holdren, March 13, 2017

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