Do I Need a Lawyer to Plead Guilty in Utah?
Being arrested for a crime can be one of the scariest experiences you will ever face, especially if you do not have any prior experience with the criminal justice system. After your arrest, things will move very quickly and you may not know what steps you need to take to protect your rights and minimize the damage that has already been done. In situations where you know that you have committed the crime, or even in situations where you are innocent but just scared, you can be tempted to plead guilty at the start of the case just to get things over with. However, this is almost never a good idea. Below, our skilled Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at Overson Law, PLLC explain whether you can and should plead guilty without an attorney, and how our attorneys can help you even in cases where you do not think your innocence can be proven.
Can I Plead Guilty Without a Lawyer in Utah?
You are technically able to enter a guilty plea without a lawyer, but it is not a smart idea, and you should always exercise your right to counsel. At your arraignment, where you enter an initial plea, the judge will read the charge or charges against you and inform you of your rights in a criminal case, including your right to an attorney. If you choose to waive that right willingly and intelligently, you will be able to enter a plea on your own.
However, it is never advisable to enter an initial guilty plea without first consulting with a lawyer, even if you believe yourself to be guilty. Our skilled Utah attorneys for a criminal arraignment at Overson Law, PLLC are almost certain to advise you to enter an initial plea of not guilty while we collect all the evidence that the prosecutor has and assess the strength of the case. This plea can easily be changed to guilty later if you wish.
How Can a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me If I Want to Plead Guilty?
As noted above, even if you believe that you eventually want to plead guilty, it is usually a big mistake to do so right away without a lawyer. This is first and foremost because there is a chance that, even if you are guilty, you could get off on a legal technicality if the police did not follow proper procedures. For example, if the officers do not read your Miranda rights to you, anything that you say in response to their questioning after you have been placed under arrest will be inadmissible in court. So, if their entire case was built around a confession that you gave in response to their illegal interrogation, and that confession cannot be used to prove the state’s case, there is a good chance that a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC can get the case dismissed.
As such, it is always best to retain one of our attorneys before deciding to enter a guilty plea. Even if there is not a legal technicality like that in your case that can get the matter dismissed, there are other ways an attorney may be able to help you, including the following possibilities.
Many times, even if you believe that you are guilty and that the evidence is there to prove it, we can still work out a potential deal to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. For example, if this is your first-offense for a relatively low-level crime like disorderly conduct, your lawyer may be able to convince the prosecutor to allow you into a pre-trial diversion program for first-time offenders or to enter a plea in abeyance. A pre-trial diversion program will consist of components such as community service, mandatory drug or alcohol rehab, counseling, and restitution, and if the program is completed successfully, your charges will be dropped and you will not have a criminal record. A plea in abeyance is a guilty plea that you enter with the understanding that, if you stay out of further trouble for a certain length of time, usually no more than a year, your plea will never be entered and the case will be dismissed.
If these programs are not on the table, or skilled criminal defense lawyers can work to convince the prosecutor to offer some other sort of deal. One possibility is your charge being downgraded to something less serious, such as from rape to sexual assault, in exchange for you entering a guilty plea and saving the state the time and expense of putting on a trial. Another possibility is the prosecutor agreeing to recommend a more lenient sentence to the judge in exchange for your guilty plea.
Even if no plea deal is offered and you do not wish to take your case to trial, our skilled Utah sentencing hearing lawyers can work to help you avoid the most serious penalties that could come with a guilty plea. While there are sometimes mandatory minimum sentences that the judge must impose, usually they have a great deal of discretion when it comes to sentencing. We can introduce witnesses at your sentencing hearing who know your character and can point to other mitigating factors that can persuade the judge to impose a more lenient sentence on you. Without a skilled advocate arguing at this hearing on your behalf, the judge is likely to impose higher fines, longer jail sentences, and harsher penalties in general.
Criminal Penalties After Pleading Guilty in Utah
When pleading guilty to a criminal offense, a defendant should understand the criminal penalties that apply to their case. The criminal sentence applied to your case will depend upon the circumstances of your case, such as the grade of your offense or whether there where any mitigating factors the court can examine.
The criminal penalties for a crime will depend upon the circumstances of a defendant’s case. While agreeing to a plea deal can lessen the severity of a sentence, you should still be aware of whether your crime is being graded as a felony or a misdemeanor.
Felonies are major crimes that are categorized by degrees. In Utah, there are four types of degrees of felonies:
- Capital felonies
- First-degree felonies
- Second-degree felonies
- Third-degree felonies
If you were arrested and convicted of a capital crime, you could be sentenced to life in prison, life in prison without parole, or possibly be given a death sentence. Under these circumstances, pleading guilty for a capital offense could mean that a defendant avoids the death penalty or is even has their felony reduced to a lower grade.
If you are accused of a first-degree felony, you could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison and face up to $10,000 in fines. If you are working with an experienced attorney, arranging a plea deal for your offense could mean that your charges are reduced to a second or third-degree felony.
Second-degree felonies carry a maximum of 15 years in prison, while a maximum sentence for a third-degree felony is 5 years. If you are accused of a felony, it would not be wise to plead guilty without the help of a lawyer. While a prosecutor may reduce the grade of your offense in exchange for a guilty plea, they may also seek to make an example out of your actions. An experienced attorney can help you get a grasp on the severity of the punishment you will face in exchange for your guilty plea.
If you were charged with a misdemeanor offense, you should also not assume that the grade of your offense will be drastically diminished due to a guilty plea. Like felonies, misdemeanors are separated into categories known as classes. There are three grades of classes for misdemeanors: Class A felonies, Class B felonies, and Class C felonies.
A defendant that is convicted of a Class A misdemeanor can face up to 364 days in jail and may owe up to $2,500 in fines. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in criminal fines. Finally, a defendant convicted of a Class C misdemeanor can face up to 90 days in jail and could owe $750 in fines.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, a prosecutor may be more inclined to provide a defendant with a reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. Our firm could work with you to seek a desirable outcome for your criminal case.
If you wish to know more about how aggravating and mitigating factors can affect your plea negotiation, you should continue reading and speak with an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors that Can Affect Your Guilty Plea
When sentencing a defendant after a conviction, the court will look to Utah’s Sentence and Release guidelines. Aggravating and mitigating factors play a large part in determining the sentence for a defendant.
Aggravating factors are facts of a criminal case that can increase the severity of the defendant’s sentence upon conviction. For example, if a defendant committed a crime where the victim sustained grievous bodily injury, this may affect the defendant’s ability to request leniency when negotiating a plea agreement. There are other aggravating factors that can affect a defendant’s case:
- The criminal offense was depraved or especially cruel
- The defendant committed while in a position of authority over the alleged victim
- The alleged victim was in a vulnerable position (e.g., mentally infirm, disabled)
- The crime was committed with two or more people
- A dangerous weapon was used on school property
- The crime was performed in the presence of a child
- The defendant is a repeat offender
This is not an exhaustive list. Other aggravating factors may be considered when negotiating a plea deal.
When pleading guilty, it would be wise to work with a criminal defense attorney that will help you highlight the mitigating factors that should be considered for your case. For example, if the defendant has never been convicted of a crime in the past, you could use this as evidence to argue that your criminal penalties should be decreased. Cooperating with law enforcement can also be a mitigating factor that could reduce the severity of your criminal penalties.
While you can enter a guilty plea without consulting with an attorney, it would not be a wise decision. Overson Law, PLLC, is here to discuss the many benefits of working with an attorney to handle your guilty plea. Our firm has worked with clients on a wide range of criminal cases and is ready to offer you the criminal defense you deserve.
Before You Enter a Guilty Plea, Consult with Our Skilled Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys
Even if you know that you are guilty of a crime, there are still ways that you can avoid facing the most serious potential penalties if you retain a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC. We will scour the police reports and related documents for any technical violations that could get you off the hook and, if none exist, we will fight nonetheless to work out a deal with the prosecutor to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. If you eventually plead guilty, we can argue at your sentencing for the most lenient possible punishments. For a free consultation, call our firm today at (801) 758-2287. You may also schedule a free consultation with our experienced criminal defense attorneys by using our online submission form.