What happens if I plead “Guilty”?
You are giving up your constitutional rights:
- The right to a fair jury trial.
- The right to testify on your own defense, or to remain silent.
- The right to cross examine any witnesses.
- The right to appeal.
From a strategic perspective, during your arraignment, you should always plead “not guilty”. Admitting guilt at this early stage in your case makes little sense, as it leaves you with no chance for an attorney to defend you, or even to defend yourself. Criminal charges often carry jail or prison time as part of the possible punishment. Do you want to leave your life in the hands of the judge? It is always in your best interests to plead NOT GUILTY and fight the charges.
Most Plea Bargains
Most plea bargains without an attorney are terrible. The court will offer you a bad deal just to get out of jail, essentially taking advantage of your desperate situation. It’s best to call your criminal defense attorney first thing after being arrested. A good criminal defense lawyer will know exactly what to do and find out your best route to get out of jail, and fight your case properly.
Beating Your Case
Obviously your goal is to beat the case. 95% of court cases do not go to trial, so if you have a good defense, usually it will be dismissed by the prosecutor after they realize there is not enough evidence or reason to seek conviction. If charges are not dropped after your arraignment, it should be clear that you need an attorney.
What is “No Contest”?
Should you ever take a plea bargain, as it may be your last resort, still do not plead “guilty”. You should always say “no contest”, which essentially means you do not want to pursue fighting the case and want to end it with an acceptable bargain that you are comfortable with.
Once a conviction is entered onto your record, it is essentially there forever. True, you can expunge it, which seals the record from being accessed by public repository, but it is still there for the court to see should another problem arise later.
The aim of our court system is to convict people who are guilty of crimes, not to wrongfully convict innocent people who are intimidated by the system. It is unfortunate, yet common, for innocent people to plead guilty because they think doing so will result in a lesser charge. But if you’re innocent, then you should have faith in the system that you won’t be wrongfully convicted.
Pleading guilty means that you are confessing to the allegations against you and should suffer the consequences. It is common for prosecutors to claim that if you plead guilty then you’ll get a lesser charge, but this isn’t always true. After pleading guilty to a charge, be it speeding or theft, the punishment is decided by the judge. The judge has sole discretion in deciding the punishment that he or she deems appropriate.
Remember that the court does not seek to deprive you of liberty or to impose a penalty. The court attempts to establish the truth. The prosecutor and the police are required to prove your guilt. They collect evidence of your guilt. Until then you are innocent. Call an attorney immediately when arrested.