It may be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a “guilty” or “no contest” plea can lead to less severe sentencing when it is clear that the defendant committed a crime. This is not true, and it is almost always a major misstep to plead guilty or no contest at arraignment.
Why Pleading Guilty or No Contest Is Almost Always a Mistake
Arizona defendants need to understand that a guilty or no contest plea leads to a defendant forfeiting their legal right to a trial. Instead, the judge will then sentence the defendant, which typically occurs the same day that the guilty plea is entered.
Once a defendant pleads guilty, a record of conviction will exist for the charges, and the judge involved only has discretion in deciding what type of sentence to impose. Judges will not have the power to change the charge to something less severe or to offer a filing that could lead to a dismissal of charges. Those authorities rest with the prosecutor, who will not be involved in the process without a trial.
A “not guilty” plea, on the other hand, indicates that the defendant is challenging the charges against them. As a result, defendants will receive another court date where either the defendant or the defendant’s attorney will discuss the charges and evidence with the prosecutor for the state. Remember, the burden of proof is on the state. Through this process, with the help of a criminal defense lawyer, you will often be able to raise key legal defenses that can lead to a reduction or dismissal of charges. This is not possible if you plead guilty at arraignment.
How to Handle Arraignment and the Pleading Process
Pleading guilty during the arraignment means you will never know what legal defenses an attorney may have been able to offer on your behalf. Even if you are convinced there is no defense against the crimes you have been charged with committing, entering a not guilty plea during the arraignment allows your attorney to discuss the matter with the prosecutor.
Preferably, however, you will discuss the matter with your Arizona criminal defense lawyer before the arraignment process even begins. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on the potential consequences of pleading guilty, many of which may be surprising to you as a defendant.
The best way to avoid these potential pitfalls is to work with a criminal defense lawyer who fights to help you avoid these consequences before a guilty plea is entered at arraignment. Once the guilty plea is entered, it is often difficult to undo the guilty plea and these potentially devastating consequences from impacting your life.
If you do go to an arraignment without a lawyer, however, do the following:
- Plead not guilty
- Get the discovery materials pertinent to your case
- Then speak with a lawyer
Simply put, the last thing any defendant should do is walk into an arraignment and plead guilty to all charges after listening to the judge explain the defendant’s rights. While this may seem like the “honest” thing to do, know that the criminal justice system will not necessarily treat you more leniently for doing so.
The only thing you are sure to do by pleading guilty is waiving your legal rights to the defense process. It is likely that your lawyer will be able to effectively argue your case through he legal process, so don’t throw this opportunity away.
If you have any legal questions or concerns about the arraignment process and how you should plead, contact Tyler Allen Law Firm, PLLC for a legal consultation.