Should I just plead guilty to criminal charges?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I was arrested and charged with armed robbery. The prosecution has the gun, my fingerprints on the gun, video of the robbery, and eye witness testimony from people who witnessed the crime. I hate to say it but it feels like an open and shut case. I am wondering if it’s better to fight the charges, work with a criminal defense lawyer to negotiate a plea agreement, or whether I should just plead guilty to the charges?” 

Many suspects believe that pleading guilty when they have been charged with a crime is the honest and honorable step to take. While this might feel like the case, legal experts strongly suggest that all suspects should talk to a criminal defense lawyer before they make a plea. State laws and penalties vary. Your charges and penalties can also vary based on whether this is your first, second, or third criminal charge.

The main reason to wait to make a plea, however, is that if you simply plead guilty you have eliminated your power to negotiate a plea agreement and may end up with more severe penalties than you deserve for the crime you committed.

Additionally, given the complexity of the US legal system, it may take some time to fully understand the consequences of your actions. Some criminals assume that the legal system is fair and just and will mete out just punishment. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

What can a criminal defense lawyer do for me?

If you have been charged with a crime you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will provide legal counsel, answer your questions, review criminal evidence, and represent you at your criminal trial.

Other tasks they perform can include offering assistance during an interrogation, negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecutor, reviewing the laws and evidence for your case, interviewing witnesses to the alleged crime, and filing all appeals. 

What happens if I accept a plea agreement?

After your lawyer reviews the evidence against you they may determine the best course of action is to negotiate a plea agreement. A plea bargain allows you to avoid a potential conviction by agreeing to a lighter conviction. In some case the state may recommend a lighter sentence; in other cases, the state may charge you for a less serious crime. The options available for your crime need to be discussed with your criminal defense lawyer.

Before taking a plea agreement it’s important to consider the consequences. First, you may be charged with a criminal conviction, you may suffer severe penalties and fines, and you may be admitting guilt (unless you offer a no contest plea).

The benefits, however, are that your case may be resolved more quickly, you may avoid the costs of a trial, and you may receive a lighter charge or sentence.

What do I do if I want to negotiate a plea agreement?

The first step to negotiating a plea agreement is to hire a good criminal defense lawyer who understands informal bargaining and knowledge about your specific jurisdiction’s court system. 

Getting a good plea agreement can depend on several factors: your involvement in the crime, the impact of the crime, whether there are mitigating factors, the strength of the prosecution’s case, your character, the ability of your lawyer to establish a mutually desire a reasonable settlement, and proving that a trial could be a hardship on your family or dependents.

Bottom Line:

Even if you committed a crime you have the right to plead not guilty, review the facts of your case, question witnesses, review the evidence against you, and talk to a criminal defense lawyer. There is no reason to forfeit your negotiating power and plead guilty at the arraignment.

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