The Top 6 Things You Should Know Before Pleading Guilty

September 7, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Pleading guilty may be the best option in a case – but it should never be the first option.  The decision to plead guilty is often not much different than the decision to get a permanent tattoo everyone can see.  You should fully know and understand the consequences and alternatives before making this choice.

1.  What does it mean if I Plead Not Guilty?

It means you are exercising your right to a trial by judge or jury.  Every person has the right to a trial and every person has the right to plead “Not Guilty” to a criminal charge regardless of whether they committed the crime alleged.  There is nothing dishonest or immoral about pleading “Not Guilty” because your claim is essentially the state or government is unable to prove your case beyond all reasonable doubt.  Some backwards countries require you to prove your innocence — but the U.S. isn’t one of them.  By asking the State to bring it’s proof against you — you are keeping your government accountable to the people.

2.  What Rights am I Giving Up?

The framer’s of our constitution really knew what they were doing.  They gave us several extremely powerful rights — which in and of themselves could actually prevent you from being convicted regardless if you are “guilty as sin” or are completely innocent.  My list is only partial, but here are some of the rights you’ll waive in a guilty plea:

  • The right to a jury trial, the value of which speaks for itself;
  • The right to testify in your own defense and be heard — or the opposite — to remain silent so you don’t have to be exposed to harassing or abusive questions (known in the legal profession as “do you still beat your wife” questions) from the prosecutor.
  • You’re waiving arguably your most important right — the right to cross examine a witness.  Cross examination is a powerful way to break down the State’s case and show the jury or judge the full truth of an accuser’s account.
  • You’d typically (but not always) waive your right to appeal which means barring some remarkable unknown circumstances — the case will be final once the judge accepts the plea.

3.  What Are the Consequences of My Guilty Plea?

Know what you’re signing up for.  Understand the differences between deferred adjudication and a conviction and ask your lawyer about how it impacts your ability to expunge (clear) or hide (non-disclose) your record.  Understand the requirements you’re agreeing to if you’re accepting probation — and the punishments if you fall short.  Ask about other collateral consequences particular to the type of charge you’re pleading guilty to… will it affect your right to vote?  To own a firearm?  Could it cost you your job, a professional license or the ability to get a professional license?  If you’re agreeing to go to jail or prison, know the parole guidelines first.

4.  Can I Actually be Acquitted at Trial?

I tell juries all the time the truth that, “people are acquitted in courthouses all around America every single day.”  Your lawyer should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each case with you.  Again, the prosecution bears the burden of proof beyond all reasonable doubt which never shifts back to you.  Not only that, but you are presumed innocent.   Just because some facts may look bad in your case doesn’t mean you’ll lose.  Before you make the decision to plead guilty, you should know what may or may not happen at trial.

5.  Will the Punishment be Worse if I Take the Case to Trial?

People often assume the prosecutor’s plea offer is a better shake than the judge or jury will give in the event you’re convicted after a trial.  Often prosecutors, in making plea offers, simply don’t have their fingers on the pulse of the community.  Merely because the individual prosecutor may be judgmental doesn’t mean a judge or jury will agree with them.  A prosecutor asking to jail a 42 year homemaker with 3 kids for a DWI after a night of drinks with girlfriends may find the jury is angry with him for what could be seen as a mean suggestion.

6.  Won’t Fighting the Case Make the Prosecutor or Judge Mad?

Maybe.  But so what?

If you’re charged with a crime, you have to be far more concerned with how the case will impact you 10, 20, or 30 years down the road… long after both the judge or prosecutor have forgotten your name.  Besides, the vast majority of judges I’ve been around actually appreciate strong advocacy from defense lawyers and few judges (or juries) give in to a frustrated prosecutor upset about having to prove a case.

*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 and for legal advice about any situation you should consult with an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship an communications sent through this forum are not privileged nor confidential.

Do I need an Attorney for a Theft Case in Texas?

February 10, 2010

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Yes, even if they’re accusing you of taking a penny.

Being convicted or even getting deferred adjudication on a theft case is bad news in Texas.  There are countless unseen consequences.

It is one of a handful of charges that the stigma attached to your criminal record in practically every case is worse than any punishment if you are convicted or get deferred.

Not only that, but the judicial system and many governmental agencies consider theft to be a “crime of moral terptitude.”  This can cause wide ranging problems from immigration consequences to professional licensing denial or suspension such as being a doctor, lawyer, or any other job that requires a license such as nursing or being a real estate agent.

Explaining a theft away on your criminal record is a hard thing to do whether it was a pack of chewing gum or gold bullion they accused you of taking.  Think of the disadvantage you’ll have 15 years from now in applying for a job handling money when your competition won’t spend 5 minutes of the interview talking about a previous theft charge — but you will!

The worst mistake you can make if you have been charged with theft is to blow it off because perhaps you don’t think you can win, or it was a prank, or someone else really did it and you just happened to be there and you think you can explain it away later.

In Collin County, Texas, where I practice, I have seen juries be tremendously compassionate to persons accused of theft and acquit them.  The State must prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt and a good lawyer will demand the jury acquit you if the State can’t meet their burden regardless of what happened.  Theft charges must typically be aggressively defended. Even if the case is very difficult, there may be other options to lessen the blow but those are legally complex.  A theft charge is no time to learn how to be a lawyer on your own!

*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 specific legal advice.  For legal advice, consult an attorney.

Why You Shouldn’t Represent Yourself in a DWI

February 9, 2010

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Here’s why:

DWI Laws Are Nastier Than You Think

The laws against DWI are getting nastier and nastier with no end in sight.  My clients hear me repeat the phrase, “no politician ever got elected in Texas promising to go easy on DUI cases.”

Many people arrested for DWI feel they were wrong and should take responsibility for their mistake.  While this is an extremely admirable trait — it assumes the price for taking responsibility isn’t cruel and thoughtless.

The one thing the legislature can’t take away from you is your constitutional right to an advocate.  It’s the only way to try and level the playing field.

Don’t Assume Your Arrest is a Lost Cause

First, as any prosecutor will tell you, DWI’s can and do very frequently end in acquittals.  Jurors are just like you.  In a DWI they truly presume you innocent unlike other cases.  They listen much to the dismay and chagrin of the prosecutor and the police officer who would have them believe there is only one side to the story.

Scientific Testing are Man-made Mouse-traps

Blood and breath tests can be discredited through different scientific arguments and sometimes you can demonstrate to the jury the test was simply improperly conducted.  The equipment is fallible and jurors are often surprised at just how imprecise these machines truly are.

The practice of blood warrants is controversial.  Forcibly putting a needle in someone’s arm would be a 2nd Degree Felony under the Texas Penal Code (aggravated assault with a deadly weapon) if it weren’t conducted under the color of law.  Regardless, DWI enforcement has lost so much perspective that this practice is justified to solve first-time DWI offenses that are Class B Misdemeanors.

Police Have to Follow the Rules Too

Additionally, Judges frequently suppress improper traffic stops or other improper police contact.  This means that where an officer has been overly-aggressive in finding a reason to pull a car over or the officer didn’t have the right to visit with you… all or some of the evidence may be thrown out by the Judge if improperly attained pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 38.23.  In those instances field sobriety tests, breath tests, and even blood tests can be inadmissible for the prosecution.

There is so much at stake in a DWI for your future that a short article hardly does it justice.  I’ve only addressed the tip of the iceberg as far as consequences and punishment.  There is so much other red-tape such as driver’s licenses suspensions, surcharges for driver’s license renewals, and deep-lung-devices being ordered on your car, it hardly makes sense to go into this process alone.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. None of the content herein is intended to be legal advice, specific or otherwise.  For legal advice, please contact an attorney.

Should I just talk to the Prosecutor when I go to Court?

February 6, 2010

By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

There’s not much in it for you.

The prosecutor may be a nice person.  Most are.  Your criminal record, though, is not as important to them as getting to lunch on time.

Prosecutors are your legal opponent and frankly most have never defended anyone so they don’t understand nuances to keep your record clean.  They don’t understand how to minimize collateral consequences such as professional licensing, immigration, or future enhancement.  Most have never had to crack a book on these issues.  Many will make uninformed representations about your rights and about the effects of your plea.

In fairness to prosecutors, It’s not their job to point out legal and factual weaknesses in their own case which can result in acquittal.  They don’t review a police report critically like a defense attorney would for legal issues, defenses, and inconsistencies.  They see the police report as a checklist and not much more.

Many times people think because they made a mistake or because no one will believe their side of the story – they need to just visit with the prosecutor, take their medicine and get it over with because it’s hopeless and there is no need to spend money on a lawyer.  You may not think it’s a big deal now, but studies have shown criminal records cost people money over the course of their lives.

I have not met a prosecutor that would retaliate against someone for getting a lawyer though I am sure there are some out there.  Most actually appreciate the opportunity to streamline your case.

Talk to a lawyer!

*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 you should consult an attorney.