A guilty plea is one in which the accused admits his or her culpability in the crime and expresses readiness to accept punishment without the benefit of a trial. The guilty plea signals the end of the criminal trial proceedings. There are a number of important aspects of a guilty plea that a defendant should understand before proceeding with the plea. In fact, the plea itself will set forth these issues and the judge will address them again before accepting the plea.
A guilty plea waives the benefit of a trial. As such, the defendant is giving up many rights guaranteed by the constitution in entering a plea. Most prominent, the defendant waives the right to trial. In doing so, the defendant gives up a number of rights associated with trial. The defendant also waives the right to call witnesses that will testify in his or her favor, both the prosecution witnesses and the defense witnesses. The defendant gives up the right to confront and cross examine the state’s witnesses. The defendant waives the right against self-incrimination.
One important right that the defendant gives up unless the right is expressly reserved with a conditional plea is the right to appeal the conviction. Once the plea is done, the trial portion of the case is over. There is nothing left to argue other than sentencing. The defendant should understand this and should make sure that he or she understand the rights that he/she is giving up as well as the consequences of the plea.
To insure understanding, the defendant must sign the plea indicating his/her understanding and the judge will ask again on the record. Thus, it is no excuse that the defendant did not understand what he or she was doing. It is no excuse that his or her lawyer did not explain the plea sufficiently. In other words, a defendant cannot come back later except on rare occasions to plea the incompetence of his attorney.
In light of the fact that the defendant bears the burden of any plea, it is extremely important that the defendant understand the consequences. Each of these rights is very important. Each of the consequences can be potentially severe. And each deserves its own discussion with an experienced criminal defense attorney.