During the criminal process, once you have been accused and charged with a crime but before the actual trial proceedings, you have the option of pleading guilty or not guilty at your arraignment. This plea is extremely important and will influence the rest of the trial—as well as your future. Therefore, it is extremely important that you’re aware of your plea options.
A good defense attorney will always advise that you initially plead not guilty (even if you did commit the crime), as it opens up possibilities for your defense and allows for wiggle room when determining sentencing or acquittals. Otherwise, if you plead guilty from the start, the judge has no option but to sentence you right then and there, without leniency.
However, even though your initial plea should be not guilty, there are several different plea variations that can be used as a defense throughout your trial.
The Right Plea Can Protect Your Future
During the criminal process, you have an option to change your plea depending on how your case is progressing, the evidence presented, and the advice of your lawyer. Depending on the circumstances of your case, any one of these pleas can result in an acquittal or keep you from serving “hard-time” and penalties.
These plea options are as follows:
Non-guilty pleas: completely innocent of the crime
- Innocent until proven guilty. Since the law states that you’re innocent until proven guilty, you can simply plead innocent and hope that the prosecutor is unable to convince the judge or jury that you’re guilty
- Innocent proven by alibi. Pleading innocent on the grounds that you have a reliable alibi, proving that you could not have committed the crime
- Innocent based on reasonable doubt. If you believe that the prosecutor doesn’t have enough reliable evidence, or that your defense attorney can prove doubt in the prosecutor’s case, you should plead not guilty. In order for a conviction to be successful, the prosecutor must prove beyond a doubt that no one but you could have committed the crime. If your defense attorney can show the prosecution cannot meet its burden of proof, you should be found innocent.
Non-Guilty Guilty Pleas: you committed an illegal act but shouldn’t be held liable, accountable, or responsible
- Self-defense. This strategy involves confessing that you committed the crime as a result of protecting yourself. Although this defense can be powerful, it requires you to establish that you were the victim in the situation, not the aggressor.
- Insanity. You claim that although you committed the crime, due to mental instability you didn’t know what you were doing at the time. Since most crimes require a notion of intent, the insanity defense relies on the fact that you didn’t understand what you were doing and therefore couldn’t have had the necessary intent to cause harm
- Entrapment. You committed the crime because a government official induced, forced, or coerced you into doing so. This defense won't work if the judge or jury believes you were predisposed or willing to commit the crime on your own.
- Pleading guilty as a result of a plea bargain. The prosecutor may provide you with an incentive if you agree to plead guilty. These offers may include such things as a reduced sentence, probation rather than confinement, or an option for lower-security imprisonment.
- Cooperative guilty plea. The prosecutor may allow you to plead guilty to lesser charges if you provide information or evidence about other crimes or people. If your information leads to an arrest or another crime being solved, the prosecutor may accept a guilty plea for a lesser charge.
- Pleading guilty for damages but not for crime. Here, you accept liability but refute the criminal charges.