Clients often ask me if they should enter a guilty plea. That question should be decided by the client and only the client. An accused before the court should never feel pressure or duress to enter a guilty plea. The law gives everyone a right to a trial and a right to have the case against them proved beyond a reasonable doubt. This is true even if the person did in fact commit a crime. Just because a person is morally culpable, does not mean that legal guilt can be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Before pleading guilty an accused person should consider the following:
- Can the prosecutor prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt?
- What sentence will the court hand down if I plead guilty before trial?
- What sentence will the court hand down if I am found guilty after trial?
- Is there a difference between the sentence a court would give for a guilty plea versus a guilty verdict after trial?
- How will a finding of guilt or conviction affect me? (ie. immigration consequences, employment consequences, civil liability etc.)
- How much will a trial cost?
Before pleading guilty, a lawyer should let the court know that the accused person knows their rights. Courts will not accept a guilty plea unless:
- The plea is voluntary,
- The accused knows of their right to a trial,
- This right is voluntarily waived by the accused,
- The accused admits to committing the crime that they are pleading to,
- And the accused knows that the court is not bound by a plea deal or plea bargain before the court.
As a result of this courts do not allow innocent people to plead guilty “just to get it over with”. In addition to this lawyers cannot help clients enter guilty pleas to offences they deny committing.
Pleading guilty has traditionally been seen as a sign of remorse. This is a “mitigating factor” in sentencing. This means that courts are more lenient in sentencing when the accused person pleads guilty. Despite this however, courts cannot impose an extra penalty on a person for going to trial and being convicted.
If you are considering pleading guilty it is important that you are fully aware of the case against you and the rights you are giving up. Contact a lawyer today to ensure that your rights are protected.