What are the Types of Pleas in a Criminal Law Case?

With regards to criminal cases in Florida, there are technically four different potential responses that a Defendant can elect to make when formally charged at an arraignment. These options include pleading not guilty, pleading guilty, pleading no contest also known as nolo contendere, or remaining mute. Now as you might expect there are a variety of reasons as to why a Defendant might choose one of these options over another. Further, while the remainder of this passage will seek to provide information about these potential plea options, the best way to make a good decision when facing a criminal charge is to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

What Does Pleading Not Guilty Really Mean?

With the rising popularity of televised high-profile criminal law trials, many people have begun to question why so many people plead not guilty when–at least, according to the experts in social media–they’re clearly guilty. While that may seem like a reasonable question when you’re reading the news or home in front of the television, it’s important to remember that in the United States every person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent. Additionally, it’s worth remembering that public opinion or the outcries within social media networks are not evidence and will not find their way into the courtroom.

So what does a plea of not guilty actually mean? The entry of a plea of not guilty means that a criminal defendant is not admitting guilt to the crime charged. Moreover there are a multitude of different reasons why a defendant in a criminal case might enter a plea of not guilty. Some of the most common of these reasons are as follows:

  1. The Defendant is not guilty of the offense charged and wishes to contest it.
  2. The Defendant hasn’t reached a decision on how to proceed with the case and needs more time to consider their options.
  3. The Defendant has not yet secured an agreeable negotiated agreement with the prosecution.
  4. The Defendant wishes to participate in the discovery process and see what evidence the prosecution has against them before deciding how to proceed.
  5. The Defendant wishes to confer with their attorney.

It’s also worth noting that the initial entry of a plea of not guilty can be changed at a later date by a Criminal Defendant to a plea of guilty or a plea of no contest. Now before making any kind of plea in a criminal case you should always talk to a criminal law attorney, but the following might provide you with some insight on what happens when you plead not guilty or guilty.

What Happens When You Plead Not Guilty?

As mentioned above, a not guilty plea is a denial of all criminal allegations leveled against a defendant. Some people are concerned that the entry of a plea of not guilty is somehow dishonest if a person knows that they did some or all of the things they are accused of. But such concerns are unfounded as utilizing apples of not guilty is oftentimes a procedural necessity. Following a plea of not guilty additional court dates are set and a criminal defendant is given time to secure legal representation, examine the evidence against them, and in some cases negotiate with the prosecution. Therefore, for most people charged with crimes in Florida, it may be best to enter a not guilty plea at arraignment.

In short, a not guilty plea is the way a criminal defendant can preserve their rights until they have explored their options, consulted an attorney, learned more about the evidence against them, and made sure they fully understand the possible consequences of a conviction.

What Happens When You Plead Guilty?

In Florida the entry of a plea of guilty in a criminal case is an admission by a criminal defendant that they committed the criminal act with which they have been charged. Now as one might expect, the entry of a plea of guilty will not only begin the process of bringing the case to a close, but it will always be followed by some form of penalty. It should also be mentioned that the entry of a plea of guilty also results in the surrender of a number of rights possessed by criminal defendants. That means it’s usually a very bad idea to enter a guilty plea without first consulting a criminal law attorney. This is especially true because the process of trying to reverse or withdraw the entry of a guilty plea is difficult and never guaranteed.

Criminal law and procedure is crafted to ensure that certain Constitutional and other rights of the accused are respected, and that criminal defendants have the opportunity to fight the charges against them. Unfortunately these same rights are also abandoned by a criminal defendant upon the entry of a guilty plea. Thus to ensure that these rights are not forsaken in error Courts will often not accept a plea of guilty if a criminal defendant exhibits ambiguity or confusion regarding their decision to plea. And, when someone enters a guilty plea, the judge will typically list all of the rights the defendant is giving up and get confirmation that they understand and are entering the plea voluntarily before accepting the plea.

Those rights include:

  • The right to have a jury or judge determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty at a trial
  • The right to have an attorney represent them at a trial
  • The right to hear and confront witnesses against them
  • The right to compel witnesses to appear in court and testify on their behalf, and to present other evidence and arguments to the judge or jury
  • The right to testify on their own behalf
  • The right against self-incrimination
  • The right to require the prosecution to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt
  • Most appellate rights

Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

Generally, once you have entered a guilty plea, you don’t have the option of changing your mind. Thus it is essential that a criminal defendant is sure they wish to enter a plea of guilty or no contest to any charge brought against them. Furthermore, while it is possible for a criminal defendant to withdraw a plea of guilty or no contest, such a result is never guaranteed. Additionally, the circumstances necessary for such a request to be granted become more onerous once a defendant has been sentenced. So making sure you’ve consulted with an experienced criminal defense attorney is always essential.

Therefore, if you or a loved one have been charged with a crime and are considering pleading guilty, you should get information and guidance from an experienced Jacksonville criminal law attorney. Unlike many criminal law firms, Lufrano Legal, P.A. offers free consultations to people facing criminal charges in Florida.

What is a Nolo Contendere Plea?

When a criminal defendant enters a plea of nolo contendere, sometimes called a “no contest” plea, it means that they are not admitting guilt, but they are also not elevating to contest the charges against them. That being said, the result of a plea of no contest is the exact same as the entry of a plea of guilty for purposes of criminal prosecution. That said, entering such a plea may be more tolerable for a defendant who doesn’t believe they have violated the law, but are concerned about the risks of a potential trial. However, not all judges in Florida will accept pleas of no contest.

What Happens When You Remain Mute?

This is technically the fourth option a criminal defendant has when confronted with an arraignment. While this is rarely relevant to the majority of criminal cases there are a select few where such a plea is important. Anytime a defendant remains mute at arraignment the judge will enter a plea of not guilty on their behalf and the case will proceed as if they plead not guilty.

Talk to a Jacksonville Criminal Law Attorney

Navigating the criminal justice system is complicated, and it’s easy to make mistakes that may haunt you for years to come. If you’re facing criminal charges, your best next step is to learn more about your rights and options. You can schedule a free consultation with attorney Matthew Lufrano right now by calling 904-513-3905 or filling out the contact form on this page.