Pleading Guilty

Pleading Guilty: What Happens in Court

A court case involves many different steps and may include a plea bargain. When a defendant decides to accept a plea bargain, they’re agreeing to pleading guilty to a crime. Important factors to examine when considering a plea bargain are whether the defendant has an existing criminal record and the severity of the crime. After a plea bargain pursued, sentencing may result in various circumstances. The defendant whom has plead guilty, may face a series of sanctions ranging from the paying fines, the suspension of a driver’s, and/or professional license, court-ordered restitution, and may require jail or prison time.

A Court Hearing

The court system has various procedures that apply when someone pleads guilty. Both, the defendant and prosecutor may discuss a case-specific stipulated agreement with the judge, whom will then closely examine the plea agreement to ensure that it satisfies the laws and applicable regulations. In many instances, the judge will determine whether the plea agreement is an acceptable form of punishment given factors such as previous criminal activity, the impact of their actions on others, and whether the defendant is a threat to society. A judge may also decide an agreement is not in accordance with the law and existing community standards. In addition, the judge may review a case and determine sentencing is too severe or not substantial enough when considering whether personal interactions with the defendant reflected reformed behaviour.

For The Defendant

Once a judge approves a plea bargain, the defendant is advised of the correlating laws as there are disadvantages to pleading guilty. For example, eradicating the right to an appeal. In addition, if someone is a foreign national seeking American citizenship, the decision to agree to a guilty verdict can impact their ability to remain in the United States. A judge may engage in what is known as a colloquy, which occurs when the judge speaks directly to the defendant to ensure that the defendant is aware of the implications resulting from a plea bargain. A judge is called upon to serve as the defendant’s accuser yet simultaneously, as their protector. The goal is to confirm competency of the defendant regarding pursing such a life-altering decision while ensuring the defendant is not being coerced from an outside source or acting contrary to their best interest resulting from an issue such as mental illness or a lack of cognitive skills.

Additional Steps

On the other hand, there are certain advantages of pleading guilty that included but are not limited to; reduced costs for legal representation and the likelihood of reduced sentencing in comparison to pursing a jury trial.

In federal courts, a defendant must admit their conduct is punishable by law while indicating they understand the charges against them, and admit acceptance to the decimation of their rights resulting in correlating consequences. Defendants can expect to be questioned by a judge while lawyers advise their clients and provide direction. A judge may speak with a crime victim, a probation officer, as well as hear arguments from the prosecutor and defendant’s lawyer to assist in deciding the conditions of sentencing for the defendant.

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