Why Would a Defendant Issue a Guilty Plea?

wiseGEEK Writer

A defendant may issue a guilty plea or no contest/nolo contendre plea for many reasons. The first plea affirms the defendant is admitting to the charges and the second suggests the defendant is neither admitting to or denying the charges, but will not fight them. A nolo contendre plea is esentially a de facto guilty plea. When these pleas are accepted, they typically mean no trial, though there still may be sentencing hearings; alternately, sentencing might occur with plea. Some reasons the guilty plea is issued include actual admission of guilt, admission to a smaller offense for a lighter sentence (plea-bargaining), financial considerations of undergoing a trial, and failure to fully understand plea or its implications.

A defendant who feels remorese for his crime may enter a guilty plea.
A defendant who feels remorese for his crime may enter a guilty plea.

Sometimes people guilty of a crime confess. They feel remorse, they want to pay for crimes, or insurmountable evidence of crimes would make any form of defense pointless. This doesn’t suggest that forging straight ahead with a guilty plea is the best plan of action. Someone accused of murder one with special circumstances will likely get the most severe sentence with a guilty plea.

Plea bargains help save the time and cost of a trial.
Plea bargains help save the time and cost of a trial.

Occasionally, people are able to plead to less severe crimes to avoid trials or because a crime committed was not necessarily as grave as evidence suggested. Unless the person pleading is stipulating to a very minor crime, many attorneys advise people against entering a guilty plea. Much may be done in the way of defense, plea bargains or other things, even before a trial begins.

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Many criminal trials are never held. Matters get resolved in advance of trial by someone pleading to lesser offenses. Prosecutors and defense attorneys often cooperate to resolve cases in this way. Attorneys may advise their clients to issue a guilty plea to lesser offenses, even if people still assert innocence. If clients think the plea is advantageous, they may forgo a trial and pay the reduced sentence of jail time, fees, and/or probation. When a case would likely be won at the highest possible charges, being able to plead guilty to reduced charges makes sense.

Concern about trial costs may suggest a guilty plea. People might decide to save money, or others don’t have it to spend on a trial. Those pleading guilty or nolo contendre to serve what might be a short sentence without ending up spending lots on court and lawyer’s fees may occasionally make this choice. For petty misdemeanors, people usually just pay fines and don’t want a court date.

Lastly, people aren’t always advised by counsel or don’t take advice. They could plead guilty because they really don’t understand its meaning. Not everyone comes into the justice system with perfect knowledge of it. They could also have diminished capacity, and be unable to make an appropriate plea. In the best of worlds a smart judge or attorney helps this defendant understand their plea, and judges may be able to reject guilty pleas. The world of law is not always ideal, and such pleas may result in higher sentences or the criminal conviction of an innocent.

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