Legal Rights Waived in Plea Bargains

Rights You Give Up When You Accept a Plea Bargain

If you plead not guilty or "no contest" to a charge, you give up the right to:

  • An attorney appointed at public expense if you are indigent (without money to hire an attorney);
  • The right to a trial; and
  • The right to appeal.

Why Plea Bargains Are Made

There are many reasons why plea bargains are offered by the district attorney and accepted by defendants:

  • Plea bargains can help reduce heavy criminal case loads;
  • Witnesses may not be willing to testify or cannot be located;
  • The prosecutor's evidence is questionable, circumstantial, or lacking in some other way making a conviction less likely;
  • For the defendant, accepting a plea bargain may reduce the charges they are facing and/or reduce criminal penalties at sentencing, and eliminates a trial procedure.

Types of Pleas

  • Guilty: A defendant can plead guilty to a charge, which is an admission that he/she committed the offense or crime being charged. A guilty plea is also waiver of all rights and requires the consent of the court. A guilty plea waives the right to file an appeal, however, there may be grounds that can show why a defendant should have the right to an appeal by filing a motion to change or withdraw a plea, or a motion for Ginther Hearing if the defendant's plea was based on ineffective counsel.
  • Not Guilty: A defendant may also enter a plea of not guilty. This means that the defendant denies the charges against him/her and claims innocence. In order to get a conviction on charges where the defendant has plead not guilty, the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt rests on the prosecutor.
  • Nolo Contendere (No Contest): Just as with a plea of guilty, a plea of no contest requires the consent of the court. If a defendant enters a plea of no contest, they do not admit guilt and deny the alleged facts of the charges, however, a plea of no contest still subjects the defendant to sentencing for the charges being denied. A defendant may benefit from a no contest plea in some cases because, although the defendant will still be convicted of the charge and face sentencing, the outcome cannot be used against the defendant in other legal proceedings. For example, if a defendant pleads no contest to a criminal charge of DUI, the no contest plea cannot be used in a civil law suit against the defendant.
  • Failure to Enter a Plea: If the defendant either refuses to enter a plea, or if he/she does not appear in court, the court automatically enters a plea of not guilty and the prosecutor must prove their case in order to get a conviction.

There are also other types of pleas, including Cobbs plea and Killebrew plea which carry their own conditions.

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