Legal Questions? / Legal Answers!

Pleading Guilty Or Not Guilty.

"So are you guilty? It might not matter. It always comes down to what the State or District Attorney, can prove. Before you go in with the thought of just pleading guilty, I would suggest you take a moment to see what evidence the State has collected against you. It just might be less than you think. That might lead to a plea agreement to a lesser charge or fine. If you are not pleading guilty today, you'll see the court house at least two or three times more before your case is settled.

Once the judge enters the courtroom, he will sit down and proceed to instruct you on how the court will conduct their business in relation to everybody present. He will go over what the District Attorney may offer you and he will remind you of your right to a trial. After the Judge gives their instructions, they will then call each defendant by name and usually in alphabetical order. This is just to see if you are in the room. If your not there when the Judge calls your name, you could be found Guilty of your charge(s) by default. If your charge is a serious offense, the Judge could issue a warrant for your arrest. If this happens you could also lose any bail money that you might have coming back to you even if you are found Not Guilty later on.

"Just an observation. I have seen several Judge's put those names aside, that didn't respond to his "roll call." I am not sure if you would lose your right to be heard if you were late, or just couldn't make it in. I have also heard both the Bailiff and the District Attorney tell the Judge that they had received word from the Clerk of Courts that the defendant was on their way. I am thinking if you cannot make it in or are going to be late, and you have a very good reason, call the Clerk of Courts and let them know. They will get word to the Judge of your situation. They may also be able to let you know the position of your case ( what the Judge allowed ) if you cannot make it in."

So the Judge has called everyone's name in that very large file case load that sits next to him. He will now explain that each of you will be called in, one by one, to discuss your case with the District Attorney. The District Attorney will then call each person by name, take them into a small interview room, and explain what they will ask the Judge to do, in reference to their case against you. Fine, Restitution, Community Service, Jail Time, Probation, these are some of the options at their disposal. They want to end most cases without the time or expense of a trial and usually offer you a "plea deal." What is a plea deal? well, in their eyes it usually is a lower fine, or a lighter sentence "than what we could ask for." An offer to have you plead guilty to one fine and perhaps drop other charges, maybe a lower charge which would include a lower fine or less jail time. Now, you cannot take the deal unless you know what evidence the State has against you. Before they can offer you a deal, you must be given Discovery. (See: Asking for Discovery) This will allow you to examine every police statement, and witness statements, they will use against you.

"Statements are inadmissible in court, unless the person who wrote the statement is present in court. They only tell the District Attorney what they know about the case and what they are prepared to testify to. Any statement they want to use, they will need that witness present to testify. This gives you your right to "cross examine" that witness, or ask them questions as well. If you choose to plead Not Guilty, the District Attorney WILL subpoena any witness that has written a statement in your file,
This includes the Police ( who have to show up to testify or it's possible your case may be thrown out. )"

After you have had time to read what evidence the State has against you, you will then be given a chance to make a deal with the District Attorney.

What is a deal? well, in their eyes it usually is a lower fine, or a lighter sentence "than what we could ask for." Now, you cannot take the deal unless you know what evidence the State has against you. Before they can offer you a deal, you must be given Discovery. This will allow you to examine every police statement, and witness statements, they will use against you.

So if you take a plea deal, the DA will then go into court and tell the Judge you have both agreed to this decision. The Judge will ask you if you understand you have a right to a trial and then ask you if you agree to the terms of the plea deal. If you agree, the Judge will hand down the sentence right then.

Fines - If your fined and you have bail money being held, that money will be going toward your fine. If it pays it off and there is a balance, you will get that back. If the fine is more than your bail amount, be prepared to tell the judge how you will be paying the difference. They may allow you a payment plan until the fine has been paid off. However, if you agree to any amount to be paid on any given date and you fail to make that payment, a warrant could be issued for your arrest for breaking a Judge's order.

"I strongly suggest that you do not ever promise more than you can do. A Judge's order must be followed and reasons for not doing so may not matter. If you are allowed to make payments, ask for the amount you are positive you could pay the court. Explain to the Judge that you feel this amount, is the most you could make, without violating his order."

Probation - You could also be sentenced to probation as part of your fine.The amount of time you will have to report to a probation officer, will be based on the charge you have been found guilty of. There will also be rules and regulations that you will have to follow. They will be spelled out and breaking one could result in your arrest and incarceration.

Jail - If there is a chance of jail you may be able to ask for a date and report time to show up to start your sentence. If the Judge allows your request to get your affairs in order, you'll be given a time and date to show up at the jail to start your sentence. If he doesn't, he will have you handcuffed and taken away for jail processing.

My Final Thought...

"The not guilty process may take awhile to play out. You will travel back to the court house several times, to mull over offers made by the District Attorney. They are hoping you'll take their offer and plead guilty. That will save them from having to prove their case and perhaps losing it. Please understand... this is why most fail to obtain what they want or can live with as far as the end result. The DA is hoping everytime you have to come back, you will sooner or later take their offer. On a Domestic Abuse Case, we went back 4 times and refused each offer they made. Funny how on the last day before getting a trial date, the DA suddenly decided to give us what we wanted and what we offered to take, the very time we met with them. Pleading guilty or not guilty can be a hard decision to make. I believe we all have paid a fine for a charge we knew we were not guilty of. Agreeing to pay money to the court in order to save us time from work. If you ever plead not guilty and you decide to fight the charge, you are entitled to talk to the DA at anytime. They won't help you to win your case but they may be available to see a picture or video or even a witness statement and agree to dropping your charge. Keep in mind that in a trial by jury, it only takes one person who does not agree with the 11 others, for your case to be dismissed."