If you get arrested, and you know you’ve done what you’re accused of doing, are you supposed to plead guilty or plead not guilty?
Let’s set the scene: You’re out celebrating one night with your friends, and you end up having a little too much fun. One drink turns into five, and before you know it, you’re under arrest for Public Intoxication.
Just like anyone else charge with a crime, you’ll have to appear in front of a Judge at an arraignment and you’ll be asked, “Do you plead guilty or do you plead not guilty?”
You don’t want to lie to the Judge, so you consider pleading Guilty. I mean, you were pretty drunk and you were definitely in public. What you do not realize is that you’re about to make a mistake that you’ll regret for years because you’re actually Not Guilty.
What does it mean if you plead Not Guilty?
Contrary to what some TV personalities preach, if you plead Not Guilty, it does NOT mean, “I didn’t do it.” As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even mean, “I’m actually Innocent.”
When you plead Not Guilty, it simply means:
- “I want a chance to see the evidence against me before making a decision.”
- “The Government has the burden of proving my guilt, and I’m not doing their job for them.”
- “I want to speak with an attorney and consider all of my legal options first.”
- “I am presumed innocent and I’m not going to volunteer to be guilty.”
The beauty about the presumption of innocence is that you never have to explain to the Judge, Jury, or the District Attorney why you chose to plead Not Guilty.
How are you presumed innocent?
If you’ve watched COPS, you’ve heard the narrator say that “all suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.” Well, that statement is actually false.
The problem with that statement is when you say until, then you presume that the suspects will be proven guilty in a court of law at some point. It’s like saying, it’s daytime until it’s nighttime. Yes, it is currently daytime, but eventually it will be nighttime.
That’s not how our justice system works. That’s not how any of this works.
According to Texas Criminal Law, all persons are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
Technically, what the law says is, “All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”
–See Presumption of Innocence. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 38.03 (emphasis added)
At this stage of your case, the State has merely pointed a finger at you and accused you of a crime and hasn’t presented ANY evidence against you, much less proved any guilt. Why would you plead guilty to a crime without any evidence?
Will pleading Not Guilty get you more punishment?
Absolutely not! This might seem rude, but it is downright dumb to plead Guilty at your arraignment because you throw yourself at the mercy of a Court that you don’t understand.
This might seem surprising, but THE JUDGE DOES NOT WANT YOU TO PLEAD GUILTY AT YOUR ARRAIGNMENT! I hate using all-caps, but it is that important. It’s like going to the Judge and saying, “I did it, I need to be punished, please punish me!”
The Judge will likely even tell you that it is a good idea to consult with an attorney first and highly recommend against pleading Guilty at your arraignment.
True Story from the Courtroom
If I hadn’t seen this happen with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it. At arraignments, our Judge had a practice of providing everyone with initial instructions that he expected everyone to plead Not Guilty so they could have an opportunity to speak with an attorney first. One time I was at an arraignment and a Defendant was about 30 minutes late so he didn’t hear the Judge’s initial instructions when slipped in and sat in the back.
Later on in the morning, Mr. Late Defendant’s case was finally called, so he approaches the bench to answer the Judge. The Judge began, “Sir, you’ve been charged with burglary of a vehicle. The maximum punishment for this crime is 1 year in jail and a $4,000 fine. How do you plead, Guilty or Not Guilty?”
Mr. Late Defendant says, “uhh, Guilty?”
The Judge looks over his glasses and asks, “Are you sure?”
Mr. Late Defendant says, “umm, yes sir.”
The Judge then says (loud enough for the whole courtroom to hear), “Sir, since you are pleading GUILTY today, I am going to sentence you to the maximum punishment of 1 year in the county jail and impose a $4,000 Fine. Bailiff, please take the Defendant into custody.”
The whole Courtroom goes silent as the Bailiff puts Mr. Late Defendant into handcuffs and seats him off to the side. Everyone was a bit shocked, however, the rest of the docket went off without a hitch! Everyone decided to plead Not Guilty, requested court-appointed attorneys (if they needed them), and each were given court dates far enough in advance to review the evidence and obtain legal advice.
After finishing the docket, the Judge calls Mr. Late Defendant back to the bench and asks him why he pled guilty after being specifically instructed not to do that at the beginning. That’s where Mr. Late Defendant admitted to oversleeping and arriving really late. The Judge, who just wanted to make his point and teach a lesson about being on time, then showed mercy and asked Mr. Late Defendant if he wanted to change his plea.
Guess what? He decided to plead Not Guilty, requested a Court Appointed Attorney, and got to go home that day.
The morale of that story is, pleading guilty at your arraignment is the fastest way to get the maximum sentence.
In case none of the above is sinking in, or perhaps you want CliffsNotes for your upcoming arraignment, here it is in a nutshell.
Plead Not Guilty + Consult with your Attorney = Protect your Rights
Plead Guilty = Maximum Punishment
–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC
1101 Broadway, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3303
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479