Pleading Not Guilty Even When Guilty

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Many individuals have heard the phrase ďinnocent until proven guilty.Ē This means that all criminal defendants are presumed to be innocent. The only thing that overcomes this presumption is if the prosecutor proves that the defendant is guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the criminal prosecutor cannot meet this burden, the defendant should be found not guilty. When making a decision regarding whether to plead guilty or not guilty, a criminal defendant must weigh important considerations. Many criminal defendants believe that they are guilty of a crime that they are charged with. However, they may not want to plead guilty, instead deciding to force the prosecution to attempt to prove their guilt. The consequences that a person may face and the rights that afforded to him or her depend largely on the timing of such a plea.

Pleading Guilty at an Arraignment

An arraignment is usually held within 30 days of a criminal defendantís first appearance. At this hearing, the criminal defendant pleads guilty, not guilty or no contest. At this stage in the case, the prosecutor may not have thoroughly reviewed the case. Therefore, he or she may not have any incentive or knowledge to make a favorable offer regarding a plea agreement. Likewise, the criminal defense lawyer may not have much information about the case against the defendant and may not be able to recommend whether the defendant should or should not accept any offered plea agreement. The criminal defense lawyer instead may only be able to advise the defendant about the possible maximum sentence that a criminal defendant may receive if convicted of the offense either by pleading guilty or by being found guilty by a judge or jury.

Pleading Not Guilty at an Arraignment

For the reasons mentioned above, most criminal defendants plead not guilty at the arraignment hearing. By pleading not guilty, the criminal defendant buys time. This gives his or her defense lawyer the opportunity to review the case and to assert all possible defenses. The criminal defense lawyer may explain the defendantís rights. He or she may be able to work on motions to keep damaging evidence from being entered and to show that the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to establish the defendantís guilt.

Changing a Plea

If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, this plea is locked into place. There may be some legal exceptions that allow a guilty plea to be withdrawn. However, if a criminal defendant pleads not guilty to the charge he or she is facing, this plea can be withdrawn at any later point in time to a plea of no contest or to guilty. A guilty plea may be entered after a criminal defense lawyer negotiates a favorable plea agreement on behalf of the client. Because of the availability of changing a plea to guilty later on, most criminal defendants plead not guilty at the arraignment because they know they can later change the plea if they do reach a favorable agreement.

Determining Whether a Plea Agreement Is Favorable

One important consideration for determining whether a plea agreement is in a defendantís best interest is by assessing the strength of the prosecutorsí evidence. This can largely be accomplished through evaluating the evidence received during the criminal discovery process. The prosecutor is required to supply the criminal defense lawyer with evidence acquired in the case and that will be used against the defendant. The prosecutor is also required to provide the defense lawyer with evidence that weighs in favor of the defendantís innocence.

If the evidence against the criminal defendant is weak and there is not a strong connection to the defendant in the case, the criminal defense lawyer may believe that it is worth the risk of going to trial. This is especially true if the prosecutorís offer of a plea agreement is the same or similar to the penalties that the defendant would face if he or she was found guilty by the judge or jury. If the defendant has little to gain by accepting a plea agreement, he or she may agree to move forward with the trial.

Potential Plea Agreements

There may be many favorable plea agreements that can be created. The prosecutor may agree to reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor. The charges may be dismissed if certain conditions are met, such as agreeing to counseling or rehabilitation services. The sentence may be recommended to be reduced to something far below the maximum sentence. Before agreeing to any plea agreement, it is important that criminal defendants are properly advised by a criminal defense lawyer.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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