Your Plea Options
When someone has been arrested for committing a crime, the police will transport him or her to the local county jail. This type of facility will have a locked area that temporary holds the prisoner while they are being processed.
If the suspect has been charged with a misdemeanor offense, they are usually eligible to post bail within 24 hours.
If the criminal case involves driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are required to spend the night in jail.
In some jurisdictions, defendants who are charged with committing a crime of domestic violence may not be eligible to post bail.
How to Plead at the Arraignment
The arraignment is usually the first time the defendant appears in court. The bail hearing may be held in conjunction with the arraignment.
In a criminal case, the defendant may have been sent a summons in the mail advising them of their court date. Suspects who are in custody may be brought to court within 72 hours of their arrest.
Misdemeanor criminal cases are usually heard in a county court, whereas felony offenses are transferred to a district court.
Once the person's case is called, they must go before the judge who will confirm their identity. The court will then read the charges against the individual and ask them to enter a plea. Sometimes the formal charging document is quite lengthy and certain criminal courts require that it be read word for word. The defense attorney can choose to waive the official reading on behalf of their client.
The defendant has the following plea options:
When the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will set a date for the trial to begin. This gives the person time to obtain legal counsel if they don't already have an attorney.
If the defendant chooses to enter a guilty plea, the judge can impose sentencing immediately. This should only be considered if the crime does not involve serious jail time or a plea bargain has been worked out with the defense attorney.
This is Latin for "no contest" which means that the defendant does not refute the charges against him or her. A plea of no contest will have the same effect as a guilty plea. However, the person cannot be held liable in a civil trial for their actions.
Under this type of plea, the defendant admits that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. The Alford plea arose out of the North Carolina v. Alford case that was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1970. The Court ruled that a criminal defendant could be allowed to enter a guilty plea while still maintaining their innocence. The Alford plea is strictly prohibited in the state courts of Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey.
A few jurisdictions allow the defendant to stand mute at which time the court will enter a plea of not guilty. This allows the accused to attack the validity of the court proceedings during the appeals process.
When to Take a Plea Bargain
The criminal courts in nearly every state throughout the nation continue to be backlogged. Court dockets have hundreds of cases and it is impossible for prosecutors to try every single case. A criminal trial could take weeks and it ties up the resources of the court. Judges are under pressure to move cases quickly through the system. A plea agreement can be negotiated in less than a day. The main advantage for the prosecutor is that they get to obtain a guilty verdict without actually having to litigate the case. The defendant can plead to a less serious offense in exchange for the guilty plea, which can result in less time behind bars and a much smaller fine.
Defendants may want to consider taking a plea bargain if any of the following is relevant:
- They are still being held in custody
- They cannot afford to be bailed out of jail
- They cannot afford an attorney
- They are being held without the possibility of bail
- The defendant or their family cannot handle the stress or embarrassment of a public criminal trial
- The prosecutor has agreed to drop a felony offense down to a misdemeanor or has dropped additional charges against the defendant
Even defendants who have hired a private defense attorney could end up spending thousands of dollars in legal fees, so choosing a plea arrangement might be the best option.