When a person is accused of a federal crime and feels there is evidence for conviction, he or she may decide to pursue a plea deal with the prosecution. Doing do usually means that the federal charges against the person are reduced and they therefore do not risk as harsh of a sentence as they might have originally faced. One Utah man is in this exact situation as he decided to plead guilty to charges relating to the theft of a fossil that was reportedly nearly 200 million years old.
Authorities say that the man stole a rock with the footprint of a dinosaur. After the theft, the man was questioned by law enforcement, who now claim that the inquiry led the man to throw the fossil into a local river. It was never recovered and the man was eventually arrested and charged with removing a paleontological resource, theft, destruction of evidence and depredation of government property.
The man made the decision to plead guilty to the first charge and the prosecution agreed to drop the other charges. Had his case gone to trial, he could have faced a fine of a $250,000 or a jail sentence of up to 45 years. The deal he reached with prosecutors stipulates that he will be fined only $15,000, be under house arrest for a time and then on probation. The judge will have the final word at the man’s sentencing later this year.
If the man here in Utah had not pleaded guilty, he could have faced the maximum punishment. This is something that anyone in his situation should consider when facing federal charges. Entering a plea of guilty after working with the prosecution could greatly reduce a person’s potential sentence or help them avoid jail time altogether. No matter what, however, an accused individual does always have the right to fight the allegations if they so choose, and the burden of proof remains with the government.
Source: Reuters, "Utah man admits stealing rare dinosaur footprint fossil", Jennifer Dobner, July 11, 2014