Why not Plead Guilty Right Away? A Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.
We have spoken with and watched people, some with the best of intentions, who want to plead guilty to a crime right away. Generally, they want to own up to their behavior; or, they simply want an uncomfortable situation over as soon as possible and see pleading guilty as a way of doing it. They often tell the defense attorney, “Well, if I did it, what is there to argue about?”. To understand why this is generally a bad idea, you must understand 4 fundamental aspects of the criminal system in America as it presently is.
- Our criminal system is driven by plea bargains. Approximately 94% of all cases resolve by plea bargains – that is a fact. Our systems of laws and prosecutors are part of the reason why. For example, some prosecutors overcharge (when compared to the crime) up front, expecting the charged to be negotiated down. These prosecuting agencies are not set up to handle, an arguably more direct approach to criminal justice. Pleading guilty means you run the risk of having just plead guilty to a crime that commonly is negotiated down by a competent criminal defense attorney | lawyer. You need competent counsel to help you navigate this process.
- Our system is adversarial in design. This means that a both points of view must be argued vigorously in order for it to work properly. Simply pleading guilty and asking to be sentenced means you are making no effort to put your viewpoint forward and the system is simply not designed to accommodate this approach. People have jobs, businesses, lives, families and involvement in the community. People volunteer, care for others, have dreams and do things that a judge should consider before sentencing them. It is one thing to feel badly about doing something wrong; it is another to blindly hope a judge will judge a situation without any background. In order for a judge to judge correctly, they want both points of view and since the system is adversarial, it falls on the “defendant” or the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer | attorney present their case in the best light or nothing will be said.
- The American criminal system is based on a retributive justice, the theory that punishment should fit the crime. At minimum, in order for punishments to be fair, judges must have information about the defendant to assure their decision is fair and thoughtful. Failing to present evidence because you plead guilty to get a case over with means that the judge is limited in his or her ability to assess the situation. Taking the time to collect and present this evidence is essential if you are expecting a fair punishment, not just a punishment. As a wise old criminal defense lawyer once said, “If you want your client to be treated differently, you must give them a reason to do so”.
- Finally, there is a rule we like to call, “weirder things have happened”.
Criminal cases happen in courtrooms with rules of evidence and rules of law. Sometimes, these rules take precedence over right or wrong and produce results that are inconsistent with what you might think should happen. Evidence gets suppressed, motions on legal issues win, witnesses commit crimes, people go crazy, police reports are exaggerated or misstated, and the list goes on. Over the course of all our years in the system, we have seen a lot of weird things happen that have nothing to do with “right or wrong”. If you find a $100 bill on the street, do you walk by it because you feel badly that someone lost it, or do you pick it up? Testing and exploring a case before deciding to plead guilty is simply the wisest approach before asking for a punishment. This approach gets the best results.
Except for a select set of circumstances, often where the prosecutor and defense counsel have come to some sort of agreement in advance, or a crime is accidently undercharged, pleading guilty to crime(s) when charged is a bad idea. Certainly, no one wants to go through the stress of a criminal charge; however, recognize that immediately pleading guilty to a crime won’t make it go away. Perhaps, there is a feeling of immediate relief, but it ignores certain realities and some long reaching consequences. For those who wish to plead guilty to be accountable: it is hard not to respect this intent. It reflects the kind of accountability many good families raised their children on. That being said, it is one thing to be accountable, it is another thing to be foolish.
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our firm have handled thousands of problems in the criminal and civil systems. We know how to frame the issues cases raise and know how to speak about them with clients, judges, prosecutors and juries. Whether negotiating or trying cases, hiring us means you have experienced, knowledgeable and powerful litigators on your side.