Those who have been accused of criminal offenses generally have two options. They can plead guilty to the charges brought against them by the prosecutor or they can seek to seek legal guidance and defend against the charges they’re facing. Although everyone accused of a criminal act in theory has the right to mount a defense and to have a lawyer represent them in criminal court (at least, concerning felony charges), not everyone makes use of those rights.
People fear the public exposure of a criminal trial or believe they have no chance of exonerating themselves if the state claims to have evidence against them, so they plead guilty instead of trying to prove their innocence. Research into criminal charges indicates that over 90% of those accused of breaking the law plead guilty. To many defendants, a guilty plea may seem like the fastest and least risky solution to criminal charges, but they leave themselves at the mercy of a judge by embracing this approach.
A guilty plea does not guarantee a lenient sentence
One of the most common reasons people give for pleading guilty to a pending criminal charge is that they want to avoid the harshest possible penalties. Defendants often assume that if they cooperate, a judge will forgo sentencing them to jail or assign lower penalties. While that is possible, there is never any promise of leniency after entering a guilty plea. Only those with a written plea deal imposing sentencing restrictions have protection from the worst penalties possible when accused of a criminal offense. Those who simply plead guilty in the hopes of leniency could still end up facing the harshest possible penalties given the accusations brought against them.
A successful defense eliminates penalties
If someone cooperates with the defense attorney who convinces a judge to dismiss their charges, they can avoid all criminal consequences for the allegations against them. If a lawyer helps someone put together a successful defense strategy that results in a not guilty verdict, the accused can avoid all criminal penalties for the charges that they face.
Especially when people worry about specific penalties like incarceration, a defense strategy may be a more effective means of minimizing that risk than a guilty plea. Recognizing the danger involved in pleading guilty to a criminal charge may help someone make truly informed choices post-arrest.