By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
I hate advising clients to plead guilty.
Some tough-guy lawyers will never admit to advising clients to plead guilty but every criminal defense lawyer I know will admit to not only advising clients to accept a deal but begging or pleading with a client on occasion. Often the facts are stacked against you or the down-side of taking a case to trial is just too scary for the client.
There is no real difference between a guilty plea and a no-contest plea in Texas, so I’m referring to both in this blawg.
A guilty plea is like a contract in Texas. Both you and the prosecution sacrifice and gain something by way of agreement (you usually sacrifice a lot more). You are waiving your rights to trial and all that comes with it… the right to prepare, the right to call witnesses, the right to cross examine… etc. The State is waiving their “right” to seek a greater punishment and, they would argue, their “right” to a jury trial. In return, you are getting a specific punishment (which may be deferred adjudication depending on your plea deal) and more importantly — you’re also eliminating variables of what may happen to you at trial. The State benefits because they get a verdict without a trial.
The plea is subject to approval by the judge. When you plead guilty, you legally empower the judge to (a) find you guilty and (b) sentence you anywhere within the punishment range.
A Texas judge can do one of three things with a plea. He can accept it (the vast majority of pleas are accepted — I don’t have stats but I’d be willing to bet it’s 99.5% or even greater). He can reject the plea, or he can accept the plea and modify terms an conditions of probation assuming the plea includes probation.
If the judge flat-out rejects the plea, then he must inform the defendant he’s rejecting the plea so the defendant can withdraw his plea an assert his right to a trial. A judge rarely knows any specific fact of your case other than what you are charged with — like a DWI, marijuana case, drug possession with intent to distribute, and so on… and for this reason, the Judge is unlikely to tinker with a deal a lawyer and prosector have worked hard to make happen.
Whether to plead guilty or not guilty is a case-by-case analysis. I advise clients to fight on certain cases for all sorts of reasons and I advise clients to plead guilty on occasion too — because that may be the best answer or because we’re getting a really good deal under the circumstances.
Your choice to plead guilty or not guilty is an extremely important one. Don’t make the decision alone — have a licensed attorney experienced in the area of criminal law assist you.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about your specific situation you should consult an attorney. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship.