When charged with a crime, it is extremely important to know your plea options. During your arraignment, the judge will ask you how you plead. This basically means that he is giving you the opportunity to confess guilt or deny the charges of which you’re accused. Your answer will determine how the rest of the proceedings will play out.
If you wish to plead guilty, you simply say “guilty” and the judge will convict and sentence you right then and there.
However, if you wish to mount a defense (which you should always do), or bargain for a reduced sentence, you’ll have to plead “not guilty” and proceed to the next step.
Securing Options with a Non-Guilty Plea
If you decide to represent yourself in a criminal case without a complete understanding of how pleas work, you could wind up jeopardizing your legal options as well as your future. This is why it is not only important to secure a reliable and experienced defense attorney, but also make sure you know the potential outcomes of your plea. For instance, a good attorney will tell you that pleading not guilty (whether you are or not) will open up a lot more options than admitting guilt.
One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system is that a defendant is considered to be innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, pleading not guilty isn’t necessarily a sworn declaration that you’re innocent, but rather a declaration of your rights to be proven guilty. In other words, instead of admitting your guilt, you state that you wish the state to provide proof of your crimes. However, if you admit your guilt without making the state prove its case, you’ll be convicted and sentenced for the crime, no matter what.
Pleading guilty will also limit your rights and decrease your options for sentencing, appeal, and penalty adjustments in the following ways:
- When you admit guilt to the charges, the judge must bestow punishment based on the exact charges you admitted to. He won’t be able to adjust sentencing or lessen the punishment, even if there are extenuating circumstances.
- The judge will also be unable to reduce the charge once you’ve admitted guilt.
- You’ll be unable to pursue an appeal as you have basically confessed to all of the charges presented to you.
- Your constitutional rights are waived and, in most cases, you can be sentenced immediately
On the other hand, if you have a dependable defense lawyer and take his advice to plead not guilty (again, regardless of your actual guilt or innocence) your rights will remain intact and you’ll have more options for deals, appeals, and a potential dismissal of charges.
Making the Most Out of Your Plea
Although any defense attorney worth hiring will tell you to always initially plead “not guilty” to any criminal accusation, experienced and exceptional lawyers are able to take that plea and use it to your advantage after the arraignment. Let us help build your defensive strategy so your plea doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Contact us today at 703-865-6610 to get the most out of your plea.