When a defendant faces a criminal charge, it is the defendant’s choice to take the case to trial or to enter a guilty plea, avoid a trial, and accept a conviction. An attorney can explain and protect a defendant’s rights – and even negotiate a plea deal – but the defendant makes the final decision.
What should you do if you are charged with a crime in the greater Seattle area? Should you ever plead guilty to a criminal charge? What are the pros and cons of entering a guilty plea – or entering a not guilty plea? Can a Seattle criminal defense attorney help?
IF YOU ARE ARRESTED, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
If you are arrested, exercise your right to remain silent, do not answer any questions, and do not accept any “deal” before you have met with and discussed your case with a criminal defense lawyer.
If you are completely innocent of the crime that you are charged with, you should not plead guilty. Everyone who is charged with a crime in the United States has the right to a speedy trial by a jury of peers.
A criminal defense lawyer will almost never recommend entering a guilty plea as an initial move in your defense. After negotiating with the prosecutor, your attorney in some cases may then recommend entering a guilty plea to a lesser charge as part of a plea agreement.
IS PLEADING GUILTY EVER THE RIGHT CHOICE?
There may, however, be times when a defendant is convinced that pleading guilty is the best long-term choice. Every case is different, but in general terms, listed below are the pros and cons of pleading guilty to a criminal charge.
There are two main reasons why a defendant in a criminal case might choose to enter a guilty plea – time and money:
Time: A criminal trial usually takes months. A complicated trial may take more than a year. Multiple continuances can keep pushing a trial date into the future, and if you appeal a guilty verdict, the total legal process could take years.
Cost: There is no doubt that pleading guilty will substantially reduce your legal fees, and if you are dealing with a case that could take years, those legal fees could eventually become overwhelming.
WHAT ARE PLEA BARGAINS AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
If you are accused of a crime, it is good to know that pleading guilty to the original charge is almost never necessary. The truth is that a majority of criminal cases in the state of Washington are resolved with plea bargain arrangements (also called “plea deals” or “plea agreements”).
In the typical plea deal, a criminal defendant enters a guilty plea to at least one charge. In return, the state drops or reduces the remaining pending charges or recommends a lesser penalty to the presiding judge in the case.
For example, here in Washington, a first DUI offense can often be reduced to reckless driving or negligent driving. The defendant agrees to accept the sentence for a conviction on the lesser charge and avoids the more severe penalties that accompany a conviction for DUI.
WHEN IS PLEADING NOT GUILTY THE ONLY PRACTICAL OPTION?
You should not agree to any plea bargain for any criminal charge unless your defense lawyer recommends it as your best possible option. And if you’re genuinely innocent of the crime that you are accused of, you should probably exercise your right to a jury trial and seek an acquittal.
There are several reasons why some defendants simply cannot plead guilty to any charge and must have a criminal charge reduced, dismissed, or resolved with a not guilty verdict. You should probably plead not guilty to a criminal charge if:
You hold a professional license in the state of Washington: Professionals including doctors, nurses, lawyers, pilots, and teachers may have their professional licenses suspended or even permanently revoked if they are convicted of certain crimes.
You are in the United States on a visa, or you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder): Convictions for felonies, violent crimes, and crimes of “moral turpitude” can make you a target for deportation if you are an immigrant in the United States.
If you hold a professional license or if you are an immigrant in this state, and you are charged with any crime, tell your attorney about your situation. It may make a difference if your attorney enters into a plea negotiation on your behalf.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CRIMINAL CASE GOES TO TRIAL?
If you plead not guilty, and if the charge against you cannot be dropped or dismissed, your case will go to trial. Very few criminal cases, statistically speaking, are heard by juries in this state.
A trial concludes with an acquittal, a conviction, or with a “hung” jury (a mistrial) when jurors can’t agree on a verdict. If a judge determines that jurors cannot reach a verdict, a mistrial will be declared.
Mistrials for other reasons – such as misconduct by an attorney or improperly introduced evidence – are exceedingly rare.
A hung jury is good for a defendant. It says that the state could not convince jurors of your guilt, and in many cases, the prosecutor at that point may decide that another trial is futile.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSULT WITH A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW FIRM IN WASHINGTON STATE?
In every criminal case, it is vital to consult with a top-rated defense attorney before you make any statement, sign any document, agree to any deal, or make any final decision regarding your case.
Some criminal defendants in the state of Washington will qualify for a sentencing alternative. This state offers a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) program, a First Time Offender Waiver, and a Diversion program.
Eligibility for an alternative sentencing program is never guaranteed or automatic for any defendant in this state, but an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney will explain alternative sentencing and will be familiar with your options.
It cannot be stated strongly enough. If you are charged with any crime in the state of Washington, you must be advised and represented by an accomplished and reliable criminal defense lawyer, and you must contact that lawyer at once. That is your right.