Entering a Plea to a Criminal Offense in Florida

image of a court proceeding

In every criminal case, there are several possible outcomes, as your criminal defense lawyer will explain to you. The case may go to trial, there may be a plea entered by the client, or the state may drop the charges. The decisions whether to go to trial or enter a plea should never be made lightly and require a lot of research, preparation, and conversations between the criminal defense lawyer and the client.

In the last several weeks, I have been to first appearance quite a few times, and I am always reminded that people make the decision to enter a plea to a criminal offense very quickly. In the majority of cases it is not an educated choice. In Duval County, when you are arrested, you will go in front of a Judge at first appearance the next day. Before you see the Judge, you will watch a video, where Judge Derke explains what your options are in terms of entering a plea to a criminal offense. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you have the option to enter a plea right then and there. Many people think that is the only choice they have to get out of jail. That is not true!! Please don’t think you have to enter a plea that day to get out. The whole purpose of first appearance is for the Judge to evaluate your bail, set it, and set bond conditions. You are entitled to bail and one will be set. Only under very extreme and egregious circumstances can the Court deny you bail.

I get many phone calls from people who entered a plea at first appearance (let’s say to domestic battery), get out that day and then realize that this is permanent. And I mean it is on your record forever, even if Adjudication was withheld. The domestic battery cannot be sealed, even if you were not convicted. This is just another example why entering a plea should be an educated choice that you don’t make alone, but rather after careful preparation, research and advice of your criminal defense lawyer.

Of course, there are situations, when entering a plea to a criminal offense is the best possible outcome in your case. By then, every possible defense in your criminal case should have been explored by your lawyer, discussed with you, and all your options carefully weighed.

In every case, when a defendant in a criminal case enters a plea to a criminal charge, whether it’s a DUI or petty theft, it is very important that a person understands the rights they are giving up.

I am going to go through the rights you are giving up or a plea colloquy that a Judge explains to a person entering a plea to a criminal offense.

First, you are giving up the right to a trial by Jury.

Second, you are giving up the right to have the assistance of a lawyer at all stages of prosecution.

Third, you are giving up the right to compel the attendance of witnesses on your behalf.

Fourth, you are giving up the right to confront and cross-examine any witnesses who testify against you at trial.

Fifth, you are giving up the right to remain silent during trial.

Sixth, you are giving up the right to require the State to prove your guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Seventh, you are giving up the right to represent yourself if you choose to do so.

The Judge will also note that if you are not a United States citizen, the plea to the criminal offense, may subject you to deportation.

The Judge will ask you if the plea is freely and voluntarily entered, and has anyone promised you anything other than what has been discussed with the State, and whether you were coerced. The Judge will address if you had enough time to speak with your lawyer, do you have any questions for your criminal defense lawyer, and are you satisfied with her services. Have you had enough time to consider this plea? Are you under the influence of drugs or alcohol at this time?

These are the basic questions and rights that the Judge will explain to you, if you enter a plea to a criminal offense. These should never been taken lightly. Do not make this decision without consulting a criminal defense attorney, evaluating all your options and understanding the consequences of your plea. So many times, people don’t realize all the consequences of the plea, including driver license suspension, permanent criminal record, loss of gun rights, loss of voting rights and many others.

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