What Happens When You Plead Guilty in Court?
by Unbundled Legal Help
Pleading guilty means you admit to having committed the offense that they charged you with. Sometimes, pleading guilty may result in reduced charges and a lighter sentence. In other cases, you would benefit from going to trial.
Pleading guilty in court resolves your case. By admitting guilt, you waive your right to a jury trial and proceed to the sentencing stage. Sometimes, pleading guilty may be the only way out of a complicated legal situation. However, a guilty plea comes with serious long-term consequences you should consider.
Consult a lawyer from the Unbundled Legal Help network today to learn more about your plea options and their consequences. We can connect you with a lawyer in your area.
What Is a Plea Hearing?
If you are arrested for a criminal offense or misdemeanor, you may respond to the charge filed against you in a court proceeding known as a plea hearing. During a plea hearing, you will have the following options:
- Plead guilty (the offender admits that they have committed the offense)
- Plead not guilty (the offender states they haven’t committed the offense)
- Plead nolo contendere (the offender accepts the conviction but doesn’t admit guilt)
Your plea will determine what happens next. You will either receive a sentence or the case will go to trial where a jury will decide your fate.
What Happens in a Plea Hearing?
In a standard plea hearing, you will want to be accompanied by your attorney. The judge will then explain the criminal charges you’re facing, as well as the associated sentences and penalties you might receive.
The judge will then explain the three plea options: pleading guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere.
The judge will also explain your following rights:
- The right to a fair trial in front of a jury
- The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt
- The right to have witnesses at the trial
- The right to remain silent at the trial
- The right to testify at the trial
If you plead guilty or no contest, you give up your right to trial. In this case, you will need to sign a document called an “Advice of Rights” that states you are knowingly giving up your right to trial.
When you plead guilty, they will resolve your case without your going to trial. Here, the judge will decide what should happen next. The judge may sentence you immediately. Or, your lawyer may request an adjournment, in which case the court will schedule a plea hearing for a later date. This time will allow for the pre-sentence reports to be completed—the documents that will provide the judge with more complete information and will help them decide on sentencing. The nature of the offense will play a large part in whether the sentencing will be delayed.
What Are the Advantages of Pleading Guilty in Court?
One of the main advantages of pleading guilty in court is that you will face your case immediately. If you decide to go to trial, you may have to wait for several years for your trial. During this time, you may find it difficult to make any plans for the future.
Another benefit of pleading guilty and not going to trial is that you will pay substantially less in legal expenses. And if you anticipate the jury will find you guilty, saving thousands of dollars may be an important factor to consider.
If you plead guilty, you may receive a lighter sentence. If a lawyer represents you, and you plead guilty, your lawyer and the prosecutor will typically enter a process known as plea bargaining. This involves negotiating what sentence you should receive. In this process, you may receive a lighter sentence or have your charges reduced in exchange for pleading guilty.
Pleading guilty also avoids unpredictable situations that may occur if you go to trial. For instance, if the court presents additional evidence, you may get a harsher sentence than you were expecting at the beginning of the trial. Plus, juries can be unpredictable. In short, there are many factors that may influence the outcome of your trial and you need to carefully evaluate the associated risk.
A guilty plea will also save you from media attention. Depending on how high-profile your case is, going to trial may subject you and your family to unwanted attention because trials are typically public affairs. Settling your case out of court will protect your privacy.
What Are the Disadvantages of Pleading Guilty?
While pleading guilty may sometimes be a wise choice, there are also complications with this scenario.
First, pleading guilty means you will now have a criminal record that will probably follow you for the rest of your life. Having your criminal record expunged is a very complicated process and certain felonies can never be expunged.
In some states, there is a statutory minimum sentence you won’t be able to get around. If such a law is in place, you must serve a specific sentence even if your lawyer and the prosecutor could agree on a lighter one.
Another thing to consider is that a judge imposes the sentence. And if the judge doesn’t agree with the sentence that your lawyer has negotiated with the prosecutor, they can reject it and substitute it with a longer one.
The Pros and Cons of Going To Trial
Going to trial also comes with its own set of good and bad.
The main advantage of going to trial is that this is the only way of getting acquitted and having the charges filed against you cleared. It’s the only way to avoid criminal responsibility and exit the situation with a clean record.
Another advantage of going to trial is that the defendant gets to benefit from the United States legal system in which you are innocent until proven guilty. This means that the prosecutor will need to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If you’ve been a victim of police misconduct or if the evidence against you hasn’t been properly documented, it will be suppressed and won’t be used against you in the trial.
Going to trial also makes sense if you receive little or no benefit from your plea deal. If your lawyer can’t negotiate a lighter sentence, then a trial might offer you a better chance of avoiding jail time. Plus, a prosecutor may be more inclined to offer you a better deal once they know you are determined to go to trial as this means extra expense and time on their part.
On the other hand, going to trial means you will be putting your future in the hands of the jury—and juries are difficult to predict. You also run the risk of receiving the maximum penalty for the crime.
Going to trial is expensive. You will be able to work with a public attorney, but they are often busy and handling multiple cases at the same time. If you hire a private attorney, they will charge you a substantial sum if they go to trial.
Should You Plead Guilty or Go To Trial?
To answer this question, you will need to consult with a lawyer. Whether to plead guilty or go to trial is something that will affect you for the rest of your life. Therefore it is essential that you have proper legal help when deciding.
A criminal defense attorney can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000, depending on the complexity of your case. On average, the cost of a full package of services for a defense attorney costs about $8,000.
This is a big financial commitment. Fortunately, there are ways to get the information you need at a lower cost.
How To Pay Less in Legal Costs with Unbundled Legal Help?
There are reasons a defense attorney is expensive. One of the key factors is that you will pay for a full package of services and the defense attorney will have many responsibilities. In a standard case, the defense attorney will need to conduct case-related research, investigate the circumstances of the offense, search for witnesses, negotiate deals with prosecutors, and more. Naturally, you will pay for this full set of services provided by the attorney.
Sometimes, you may not need the full set of services the attorney offers. For instance, you may simply want to get a second opinion or a consultation on your case. If so, you can use unbundled legal services. With unbundled legal services, you may hire an attorney for a specific task and only pay for the service provided. As a result, you could save thousands of dollars in legal fees.
But unbundled legal services won’t fit every case. With most criminal offenses, you will need full legal representation instead of one legal consultation. Here, you can still use unbundled legal services. The Unbundled Legal Help network includes many smaller law firms and independent attorneys who may offer you better deals. We can connect you today with an attorney in your area.