While there are certainly those individuals who are “frequent flyers” in the criminal justice system, a significant percentage of the people charged with a crime are unfamiliar with the system. If you fall into that category, simply navigating the criminal justice system itself can be stressful and confusing. In addition, you will have to decide how to resolve your case at some point. If your criminal lawyer has presented you with a guilty plea agreement and wants you to sign it, should you agree to do so?
Criminal Prosecution Basics
If you have never before been a defendant in a criminal prosecution you may feel a bit lost and confused at times. It helps to understand some basics about the prosecution of a criminal case. As you may already know, the State (via the prosecuting attorney) has the burden in a criminal prosecution to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In simple terms, that means that the prosecutor has to prove your guilt – you do not have to prove your innocence. Having said that, most defendants do put together a defense for two reasons. The first is because if the case ends up in a jury trial, jurors like to hear something from the defense. Although they will be instructed not to infer guilt if the defense doesn’t present any evidence or testimony, human nature causes most jurors to do just that. The second reason for developing a defense theory is that it provides bargaining power when it comes to negotiating a guilty plea agreement.
Understanding a Guilty Plea Agreement
Although there are cases where the prosecuting attorney refuses to offer a defendant any type of plea agreement, in the vast majority of prosecutions the prosecutor will offer a guilty plea agreement fairly early on in the case. The reality is that prosecutors are overworked and are usually eager to get rid of cases as fast as they can. Offering the defendant a plea agreement is one way to make that happen. You are never required to accept a guilty plea agreement, and it is rarely advisable to accept the first one offered by the State. Like any other agreement, the initial agreement offered to you will be chocked full of terms that are favorable to the State with very few that are favorable to you. Most of the time, however, the terms of a plea agreement are negotiable and the prosecuting attorney and your criminal defense attorney may go back and forth several times before they reach an agreement that your attorney feels is worth presenting to you as an option for resolving your case.
Things to Consider When Contemplating a Guilty Plea Agreement
As the accused, it is ultimately up to you how your case is resolved. You have a right to take your case to trial; however, you also have the right to waive that right and enter into a guilty plea agreement with the State. When contemplating an agreement, consider the following:
- Are you guilty? To enter into a guilty plea agreement you must be able to stand before the judge and admit that you are guilty.
- Do you feel your attorney spent sufficient time negotiating the agreement on your behalf? Some terms may be more open to negotiations than others; however, your attorney should at least try and negotiate the best terms possible for you.
- Have you thoroughly discussed your chances of prevailing if you take your case to trial? The State must “discover” all evidence it plans to use against you at trial to you. Before accepting a guilty plea you should go over that evidence in detail and discuss whether your attorney believes the State could secure a conviction if you went to trial.
- Have you considered the non-judicial consequences of pleading guilty? Along with any punishment included in the plea agreement itself, you may face additional negative consequences as a result of admitting guilt that need to be considered. For example, will you face professional discipline? Might you lose your job? Will a conviction interfere with your rights to minor children?
Contact a Nebraska Criminal Lawyer at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, do not hesitate to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.