An arraignment is a court proceeding where criminal defendants are formally
advised about the charges they face, their constitutional rights, and
are then asked to enter a plea to the charges. In most cases, it makes
sense for defendants to plead “not guilty” at this point.
Although they can typically change a not-guilty plea at some point during
the proceedings, but that cannot be done with a guilty plea or no-contest
plea. Defendants often enter an initial plea of not guilty, then plead
guilty or no contest once the criminal defense attorney has reached a
deal with the prosecutor.
The following are several reasons why defendants initially plead “not
guilty” at arraignment:
The prosecution must prove your case – A not-guilty plea means that the defendant must make the state prove the
case against him/her. This requires the prosecution to collect the evidence
against the defendant and gives the defense a chance to investigate the
case, assess the evidence, and build a defense strategy.
The possibility of a lesser charge – If a defendant pleads guilty, the judge or justice only has the
discretion to decide which sentence to impose. Judges do not have the
authority to change the charge to something less serious or to offer a
deferred disposition that could ultimately lead to dismissal.
No legal representation – At the start of the case, most defendants do not have a lawyer
on their side or received qualified legal advice. Pleading guilty means
losing the opportunity to see whether there was a viable defense to the
charges or whether the district attorney would have exercised prosecutorial
discretion that is favorable.
Avoid an instant criminal record – If a defendant enters a guilty plea to a charge, he/she will have
a record of a conviction of that charge.
Uncertain consequences – Without an attorney, defendants aren’t immediately aware
of the possible consequences of conviction. Not only will there be criminal
penalties, but also personal repercussions—such as loss of job or
professional license—that the court might not explain.
If you have been charged with a crime in Santa Barbara, our experienced
legal team at
Appel & Morse can protect your rights and future at arraignment. Understand any circumstances,
do not plead guilty before seeking knowledgeable legal advice.
For more information,
contact us and schedule a free consultation today.