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 sometime 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.
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.