Colorado Criminal Law – If I am Guilty Why Not Just Plead Guilty – Why Retain A Lawyer?
Colorado Criminal Law – If I am Guilty Why Not Just Plead Guilty – Why Retain A Lawyer? – The decision to retain a lawyer in a serious Colorado criminal case may turn out to be the most significant financial decision you make in your life. It is naive and dangerous to believe that by pleading guilty and throwing yourself on the mercy of the Court what you are doing is wise.
This article addresses some of the issues you should consider before making the decision to plead guilty in any case.
The Criminal Justice System Is Not A Perfect System Of Law
The decision not to retain a Colorado criminal defense lawyer can be, and often is, a rational decision within the context of any Colorado criminal case. What is irrational is making the decision without at least examining all of the options BEFORE making the decision… and making the decision based on the best available information at the time of that decisionS.
The reasoning behind the irrational decision to plead guilty in the absence of fully understanding the criminal justice system is based on the belief that since the person really is guilty they have to plead guilty.
The next irrational belief is that by pleading not guilty you will be punished more harshly down the road.
Here is the truth – pleading guilty and “throwing yourself at the mercy of a Court” actually flies in the the face of the very foundations of our criminal justice system. The decision to plead guilty without at least thoroughly reviewing the evidence and at least speaking to one criminal defense lawyer is wrong thinking. So wrong in fact that most judges will advise the accused defendant at the first advisement that it is a good idea to consult with an attorney before making the decision to pled guilty “straight up.”
A Criminal Justice System Designed To Protect You From Yourself
The Colorado criminal justice system is designed for you to plead “Not Guilty.” In Colorado and across the country the accused is presumed innocent until the State can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Not Guilty” does not necessarily mean“I didn’t do it.” Nor does it necessarily mean “I’m innocent.”
The decision to plead “Not Guilty” means only that you would like to “make discovery” in the case and to examine ALL of the evidence before making your decision at arraignment.
It means that you are not waiving your right to the presumption of innocense and all of your other rights guaranteed by the Fourth the Fifth, and the Sixth Amendment under the Bill of Rights. While the Constitutional framework we live under assigns the prosecutor the discretion to bring charges as the representative of the executive branch of government and appoints the Judge the representative of the judicial branch to decide the punishment and control the courtroom, that same framework also guarantees that these individuals be kept in check by the exercise of the individual’s Constitutional rights.
By pleading guilty at arraignment, you never have a chance to determine if you had a “viable defense“ to your charges. You will never know whether the District Attorney properly exercised prosecutorial discretion and charged you properly according the evidence collected – if any – under the State of Colorado’s criminal code.
Throwing yourself at the mercy of the Court is placing your faith in the false and naive belief that the world is fair and that justice is always done if you accept your fate and simply admit guilt.
The truth is this – criminal charges are mere allegations – a finger in the form of the elements of different crimes pointing at you. Nothing more than that. If the accused has some moral imperative to plead guilty and take the punishment – while it may seem bold and honest todo so – it is a dangerous approach in a broken system of justice which can be used by single minded prosecutors to take advantage of the uninitiated.
How And Why Internet “Research” On Your Case Can Sometimes Do More Harm Than Good
I have tried to contribute many articles on Colorado criminal law to the internet. It is a good thing to share information to those who are frightened and searching for answers to their questions about the Colorado criminal justice system. But having said that, reading a few articles on the net hardly prepares you to effectively discuss your case directly with a District Attorney.
The D.A. is not your lawyer – exactly the opposite. The D.A. is not interested on the impact your criminal charges will have on you and your family or your belief that you are “being victimized by the system” and need “a break.” On the other hand an experienced criminal defense lawyer will know how to analyze a case, how to find weaknesses in the D.A.’s case, and will know how best to negotiate with the State’s prosecutor given the evidence in your specific case.
A few hours on the internet does not turn a private citizen into a seasoned Colorado criminal defense lawyer. To the contrary, a private citizen is more likely to learn just enough knowledge to be dangerous to their own cause.
At Least Engage In A Free Consultation Before Making The Decision To Plead Guilty Without A Lawyer At Your Side
If you are charged with Colorado crimes and you are in court for your arraignment, at least find a lawyer in the courtroom and briefly discuss the matter – specifically the potential consequences of a guilty plea in your case. I have performed this function many times in my 35 years as a Colorado criminal lawyer – both as a D.A. (For 13 plus years) and as a criminal defense lawyer.
By walking in and pleading guilty “straight up” without the assistance of a lawyer, you are giving the state full unbridled power to act in any way they want. This should scare the “H” out of you.
The Colorado criminal justice system is – as noted above – designed as an adversarial system. It is a system designed to permit two sides fight it out in court – opposing sides presenting their positions. Only in this system, your opponent, the State of Colorado, has nearly unlimited resources, unlimited experience, and an awareness of the hidden trap doors in the system that the “pro se” defendant (a defendant who is acting as their own lawyer) does not have.
The scales of justice are intended to provide for balance – a balance that is lost when the pro se defendant is unrepresented. A competent judge will try to keep that scale balanced for you in your case – but, truthfully – that is not his or he duty – he also is not your lawyer.
By “going pro se” and pleading guilty by throwing yourself on the mercy of the Court – you will almost never get the justice you deserve. If you want the best possible result in your case – you need to fight for it.
Example You Are Charged With A Colorado Drug Crime
Will you know these Constitutional issues and possible defenses?
1. Did the police legally stop you? – Why did they pull your car over?
2. What were the grounds for the stop – What evidence did they have to contact you at all?
3. Since you were “seized” under the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution did they conduct a legal search of your person and your vehicle?
4. If you were arrested – was there probable cause to make the arrest?
5. If there was no probable cause – was there a legally issued arrest warrant for your arrest?
6. If drug evidence was seized – how was it seized? How was it handled and – or stored? Was there a proper chain of custody?
7. Were the drugs properly tested – by what kind of machine – using what procedure?
There are just a few of the questions an experienced lawyer will use to review the evidence in your case. Would you even know the right questions to ask – what to look for and how?
The Hidden Impacts Of Almost ALL Colorado Criminal Convictions
This article intends to do one thing – to convey that it is a mistake to simply enter a guilty plea to the charges at arraignment. The reader may wish to do so later but the decision to enter a guilty plea to a charge means an immediate conviction for that charge. The only question left is the sentence to be imposed by the Trial Judge.
The decision to plead guilty may impact a person who is not a U.S. citizen. It may result in a lifetime ban on possession of firearms or ammunition or it may only result in a loss of one’s right to drive.
The consequences are never totally understood by the pro see defendant until it is too to avoid those consequences. The critical time to act is before a guilty plea is entered, not after a conviction is entered on the record.
The uninformed entry of a guilty plea at arraignment will not only result in the entry of a conviction, it could include jail time, fines, court costs, and other impacts that you can never have anticipated.
Summary and Conclusion – Colorado Criminal Law – If I am Guilty Why Not Just Plead Guilty – Why Retain A Lawyer?
Before you are formally arraigned on your charges, talk to a lawyer. If there is no opportunity to speak to a lawyer then plead not guilty. If you can, obtain the police investigation (the discovery) in the case and then discuss the case with an attorney.
If you absolutely determined to plead guilty at arraignment just to “get things over with” at least try to discuss the case with a lawyer there in the courtroom. When the Judge is explaining your rights to you – this is not an exercise in mere formality over substance – his or her explanation of your rights is intended to alert you to the seriousness of your situation and to the Constititonal rights that you automatically possess as a person in the State of Colorado.
In the final analysis – even a lawyer cannot make the decision to plead guilty or not guilty for the accused. But that lawyer can make certain that if the Defendant a decides to plead guilty, he or she is aware of the consequences of this action and any alternatives.
Pleading Guilty At Arraignment Without Counsel Can Sometimes Mean:
1. Immediate sentencing – with no game plan to lessen the severity of the sentence.
2. Change in the Defendant’s life permanently to include the possible loss of employment present and future.
3. If there is a negotiated plea bargain and counts are dismissed – the Defendant needs to be aware that, in most situations while these other charges are dismissed ALL counts remain on the Defendant’s record. While they will show dismissed – the dismissed charges do NOT disappear when a plea is entered on a less serious charge.
4. The loss or forfeiture of professional or other types of licenses.
5. An impact on civil matters such as in a divorce or child custody action.
These are but a few of the concerns that must be factored in before you make the decision to plead guilty. An excellent article on the dozens of collateral consequences can be found by following this LINK to an article written by the Colorado Public Defenders Organization
Colorado Criminal Law – If I am Guilty Why Not Just Plead Guilty – Why Retain A Lawyer?
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The reader is admonished that Colorado criminal law, like criminal law in every state and at the Federal level, changes constantly. The article appearing above was accurate at the time it was drafted but it cannot account for changes occurring after it was uploaded.
If, after reading this article, you have questions about your case and would like to consider retaining our law firm, we invite you to contact us at the Steinberg Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm – 303-627-7777.
Never stop fighting – never stop believing in yourself and your right to due process of law. You will not be alone in court, H. Michael will be at your side every step of the way – advocating for justice and the best possible result in your case. H. Michael Steinberg is passionate about criminal defense. His extensive knowledge and experience of Colorado Criminal Law gives him the edge you need to properly handle your case
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“A good criminal defense lawyer is someone who devotes themselves to their client’s case from beginning to end, always realizing that this case is the most important thing in that client’s life.”
You should be careful to make a responsible choice in selecting a Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer. We encourage you to “vet” our firm. Over the last 30 plus years – by focusing ONLY on Colorado criminal law – H. Michael has had the necessary time to commit to the task of constantly updating himself on nearly every area of criminal law, to include Colorado criminal law and procedure and trial and courtroom practice. H. Michael works hard to get his clients the best possible results in and out of the courtroom. He has written, and continues to write, extensively on Colorado criminal law and he hopes this article helps you in some small way – Colorado Criminal Law – If I am Guilty Why Not Just Plead Guilty – Why Retain A Lawyer?