No one likes going to court. It is inconvenient, a hassle, and a frustrating experience. Often during this time, some of your poorest decisions are held up to public scrutiny. We all have times we did not make the best decision, and we want just to get the consequences over with & start moving on with our lives. That’s a normal human reaction. Getting this situation resolved quickly by pleading guilty is often not the best way to protect your future. Pleading guilty may turn out to be another big mistake due to how a conviction can affect the rest of your life. Let’s take a look at what the impacts are for pleading guilty. As a starting point my general advice on pleading guilty is to make the decision with your Maine Criminal Defense Attorney and not alone.
you are considering pleading guility, here are some things you should consider:
- What does it mean to “enter a guilty plea” to a criminal or civil violation / traffic charge?
- When does one enter a plea?
- Pleading guilty will not resolve your problems faster<
- Why would one consider pleading guilty?
- Pleading Guilty Myth #1 – Quickly get this done and gone
- Pleading Guilty Myth #2 – Cooperation will bring a reduction in sentencing
- Pleading Guilty Myth #3 – The police caught me red-handed and I have no choice
- Pleading Guilty Myth #4 – Going to court is too much hassle
- Is there anything I should do before pleading guilty?
- Benefits of Pleading Not Guilty
- How a lawyer can help
What pleading Guilty to a criminal or civil violation / traffic charge actually means
A plea is your formal response to a criminal or civil violation / traffic charge. A person accused of a criminal or civil violation / traffice offense is called the defendant. The defendant has a choice of several responses – pleas of Guilty, Not Guilty, or Nolo Contendere. Pleading guility means you admit you committed the crime with which you have been charged and it is formally noted in the court’s official file by the judge. Pleading guilty always results in a criminal conviction.
When one enters a plea in the court process
Your Arraignment is the court date where the details of the charge are read to you, and you have the opportunity to enter an answer to the charge in the form of Not Guilty, Guilty, or Nolo Condendere, or “No contest.” A plea of “nolo” has the same effect in criminal cases as pleading guilty. In misdemeanor cases, your Arraignment is your very first court appearance. At your Arraignment, the District Attorney often has an offer prepared that you can accept by pleading guilty. The District Attorney or prosecutor might claim; “his is our best offer” and suggests that you should take a plea deal then and there. As a result, some might get scared and take the District Attorney’s advice. However, I can assure you that the first offer at Arraignment is seldom the best offer the District Attorney is capable of presenting. There is almost always room to negotiate a better resolution, and one way to achieve this is to have legal counsel. Moreover, by pleading guilty at Arraignment, the District Attorney does not have to prove its case against you. Why do the work of the District Attorney for them? Instead, at Arraignment, as opposed to pleading guilty, instead plead Not Guilty and hire a criminal defense lawyer who will fight the case.
Pleading Guilty Will Not Resolve Your Problems Faster
Occasionally I encounter people charged with serious crimes or have facts that are in their favor who ask me “won’t it just be quicker if I plead guilty?” My answer is always an emphatic “no.” Being in a rush to pleading guilty is a shortsighted action that inevitably leads to unexpected and unpleasant penalties and collateral consequences. In other words, pleading guilty at the wrong time will only make your problems worse, not make them go away any faster.
Pleading guilty results in a criminal conviction. Criminal convictions can be quite serious, and they can carry significant penalties and collateral consequences. Once on your record, criminal convictions are permanent, and there is no such thing as expungement in Maine. In Maine, criminal convictions do not disappear from your record as time passes. They just remain there on your record for your entire adult life.
A good way to think about the court case and the criminal conviction is like the tip of an iceberg and an iceberg. The court case is just the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg, which you want to avoid at all costs, is the criminal conviction.
Why would you consider pleading guilty?
Quite often we consider the risks and rewards in life. Is it worth being late to work today, because little Sally missed the school bus and needs a ride to school? Naturally we consider the ease of pleading guilty with the hassle, time, and embarrassment of court. For example, consider your last speeding ticket. You may have chosen to pay the fine by mail instead of going to court. The outcome was quicker, however the increased insurance rates sure aren’t cheaper. This scenario is one example of how pleading guilty can be the easiest way to quickly resolve a case, however most likely the continuing higher insurance rates and other consequences show it may have been best to have an advocate represent you. With even more serious charges this scenario holds true, if you are considering pleading guilty it is best to talk with a lawyer first and know all the consequences and impacts of that decision before you make it.
Pleading Guilty Myth #1 – “Get it Over With”
Sad but true, the old phrase holds true that “haste makes waste.” Impatience which leads to pleading guilty will result only in making your overall situation worse. While pleading guilty completes the case quickly, the charge stays and its punishment comes faster. In the long run, criminal charges on your record have a lasting impact on your ability to keep your job or land a new job. If the conviction is for a driving-related criminal charge, the conviction could be counted towards an overall calculation of Habitual Offender status.
Pleading Guilty Myth #2 – “Cooperation will bring a reduction in sentencing”
Some may believe that if they “cooperate” with authorities that it will work out better for them. Unfortunately, you do not get any good citizenship points by pleading guilty just to avoid being disagreeable. The truth of the matter is this when dealing with the courts. You are not unique. Who you are is based upon the crime charged against you. The Judge has a long list inform of him and scant time to complete it. As long as you appear to understand your rights, and what you are doing, the Judge will be more than happy to accept your guilty plea and sentence you. The Judge does not care about any collateral consequences that may impact you because of your guilty plea so long as it was made knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently Pleading Guilty leaves the Judge with no option but to agree that you are guilty. The Judge does not get the opportunity to find out the truth of what really happened because that is what a trial is for. However, all the Judge can do is agree and sentence you according to the Maine Statutes. Several Maine Laws have mandatory minimum sentences, which means if convicted you will be sentenced with what is required by the mandatory minimum punishment of that particular charge.
Pleading Guilty Myth #3 – The police caught me “red-handed”
Sometimes, law enforcement can do a rather good job convincing people that they “did it” and that they should just “fess up.” However, it is not the role of law enforcement to determine your guilt. It is the role of the District Attorney to press charges, and it is the role of the Judge or Jury in a trial to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty. It is the role of the Criminal Defense Attorney to reveal reasonable doubt and prove your innocence. Moreover, the Fifth Amendment protects against self incrimination. If you are pleading guilty, then you are incriminating yourself for no good reason.
Let’s also be frank, circumstance in life are rarely black and white. If you think the police have an iron-clad case against you, talk to an expert in the field about it. Most likely you will begin to realize instead of everything being black and white, there are a lot of shades of grey. Here is an example of a case where my client felt the State had him, and he was thinking about pleading guilty. He retained me, and you can see how it turned out for him.
Pleading Guilty Myth #4 – Going to Court is Too Much Hassle
If you believe that going through the court process is too much hassle, the hassle you live with will be much greater if you have a criminal conviction on your record. Criminal charges, felonies or misdemeanors, need to be disclosed to potential employers and schools that you apply to. Depending on the employer, some will not hire you if you have certain criminal charges in your record. In job interviews, employers are also well within their rights to ask you about your past criminal convictions, such as what happened and what was the outcome. Some criminal convictions (sex offenders) have implications limiting where you can live and require reporting to various agencies when you move. Also, some criminal charges can limit your ability to travel abroad. Furthermore, criminal convictions can have a serious negative impact on your ability to hold a professional license or to earn a living from a professional license. Now you tell me what is more of a hassle: attending a few court dates over a few months or a lifetime of limitations on your ability to live and work?
Is there anything I should do before pleading guilty?
Truthfully, if you are determined to plead guilty to any offense, the best thing you can do is to discuss this decision with a lawyer first. A lawyer can counsel you on the consequences of pleading guilty to a particular offense. Probably the biggest mistake that people could make is to not talk to an attorney first. Not only would it be a hasty guilty plea, but an uninformed one as well. Sometimes I get calls from people who, after they were in a hurry to plead guilty, found themselves in a precarious or compromised situation as a result of the guilty plea, such as having their driver’s license suspended or revoked. After pleading guilty and being sentenced, your case is over and your plea is finalized. Generally you do not get take it back, except in very limited situations and only by permission of the Court, which is very difficult to get. (For example here is a situation where I was successful at withdrawing a client’s plea, but this is the exception rather than the rule). In sum, you should save yourself the hassle and only ever plead guilty under the specific and informed advice of a criminal defense lawyer. Your criminal defense lawyer has the expertise and knowledge to inform you exactly what kind of impact a conviction would have on you in advance. If you find that your life or livelihood would be too severely impacted by a guilty plea, then you would continue to fight the case.
Benefits of Pleading Not Guilty
In contrast to the risks of pleading guilty too hastily, here are some of the benefits you will experience by pleading Not Guilty and hiring a Maine Criminal Defense Attorney lawyer to defend your case.
- You Get to examine the State’s Case
- You Get to Assert your Constitutional Rights
- You Get to Cross-examine the State’s witnesses against you
- You Get to Present Facts that would Mitigate any Potential Sentence
- You Can Get a Better Negotiated Plea Offer
- Your case may be dismissed
- You can be found Not Guilty at Trial
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
My rule of thumb is to never, ever plead guilty unless you are doing so under the advice of counsel and you are fully informed that it is in your best interest to do so, and not before. Your freedom is at stake, it is necessary that an experienced criminal defense lawyer represent you and fight for your rights. If you or someone you know is considering pleading guilty to a criminal charge in Maine, I encourage you to contact The Nielsen Group for your free legal consultation with an experienced Maine criminal defense lawyer. Attorney Nielsen will answer your questions and put your mind at ease as we begin to determine your best defense strategy.
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