When facing criminal charges, you have to consider all of the possible scenarios, including the likely outcome of going to trial, the advantages and disadvantages of a plea bargain, and the possibility of leniency if you plead guilty. If you are worried about being hit with the maximum penalty if you are convicted at trial, pleading guilty with or without the benefit of a plea may seem like the right thing to do. However, our Columbus criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates recommend considering a few details before entering a guilty plea.
10 Things to Consider Before Pleading Guilty
Before you decide to plead guilty, consider:
You always have the right to an attorney.
You may consider pleading guilty because you are not sure of what to do or how to fight the charges. You do not have to know how to defend yourself – this is a defense attorney’s job. Under the U.S. Constitution, you always have the right to legal counsel. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court must appoint one. Never plead guilty before talking with an attorney about your case and options.
It can be difficult to take a guilty plea back.
If you plead guilty and then wish you hadn’t, taking it back can be tricky. You do not have an absolute right to change your mind after pleading guilty. You may be required to show a fair and just reason why the court should allow you to withdraw your guilty plea, and the prosecutor will likely fight a withdrawal of your original plea.
Your plea will be public record.
If you plead guilty to a crime and are convicted and sentenced, this creates a permanent public criminal record. Anyone who runs a background check on you, including potential employers, landlords, or banks, will find you were convicted of a crime.
Do you know the possible sentence?
If you plead guilty to a crime, you can be sentenced by the judge to the maximum sentence available under the law. Do you know what that entails? If you are not clear on the potential duration of incarceration and/or probation, the cost of potential fines, and all other possible penalties, you should not plead guilty until talking to a lawyer.
You limit your options.
Once you enter a guilty plea, your options are considerably limited. The next step is for the judge to accept the plea, enter the conviction, and then sentence you. The case cannot be dismissed, even if it should have been. By pleading not guilty, you leave yourself more options.
You cannot fight illegally obtained evidence.
If you believe your Constitutional rights were violated during a pre-arrest investigation, or during or after an arrest, and this led the police to unlawfully obtain evidence against you, the only way to fight back is to plead not guilty. Once you plead guilty, there will be no opportunity to fight back against this illegal and inadmissible evidence.
Has the judge encouraged you to plead guilty?
In Ohio, a judge is not allowed to participate in your decision-making process. He or she should not encourage you to accept a plea deal or plead guilty because of alleged weaknesses in your case or because of your criminal history. If a judge is encouraging you to plead guilty, obtain a defense attorney as quickly as possible.
A guilty plea impacts your immigration status.
If you are not a U.S. citizen, you need to understand the potential immigration consequences of a criminal conviction. Depending on your immigration status, pleading guilty can cause you to be denied naturalization or cause you to get deported.
Do you understand all of your possible defenses?
Whatever the charges against you, there is likely at least one defense strategy you could use at trial. There may be many defense strategies an attorney could use to gain an acquittal at trial or minimize the consequences of a conviction. The only way to review all of your defense options is to talk with an attorney. An experienced lawyer can explain the possible substantive and technical defenses and their likely outcomes.
You may give up your right to appeal your case.
If you are convicted based on a guilty plea, there may not be any valid grounds for an appeal. In limited circumstances, you may be able to appeal based on a wish to withdraw your guilty plea, if your request to withdraw your guilty plea during the trial was denied, or if you were given an unlawful sentence. But typically, if you pled guilty and were convicted, that is the end of your case.
Talk With a Columbus Criminal Attorney as Soon as Possible
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, the best thing to do is enter a not guilty plea and speak with a lawyer right away. This gives you the opportunity to learn about the law, the charges against you, the strength and weaknesses of the prosecutor’s case, and your defense options. Once you have all possible information, then you can make the right decision for you.