Friday, June 24, 2016

Do not just plead guilty

    As a trial lawyer I have had the opportunity to see it all in the courtroom over the years.  Many times I have seen defendants just plead guilty during their arraignments.  In a 2011 report issued by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers entitled Three Minute Justice: Haste and Waste in Florida’s Misdemeanor Courts, a number of problems in that state’s misdemeanor courts were outlined.  It was also found that many defendants simply pled guilty during their three minute  arraignments.  I and my fellow attorneys, especially here in Arizona have observed the same thing going on in the municipal courts.

    The most common problems in misdemeanor courts appear to be that defendants do not receive court-appointed counsel.  Those defendants in a criminal case are then encouraged to plead guilty without the advice of counsel.  Here is the problem, many judges do not believe  counsel is needed in many cases.  Their dockets move quicker without court appointed lawyers.  A guilty plea at arraignment also reduces the number of court appearances that a defendant will make.  That in turn moves the docket along.  Here is the real travesty.  Many judges, prosecutors and unrepresented defendants believe that because it is “only a misdemeanor,” defendants do not need an attorney for sentences of time served, a fine payment or probation.

    Do not just plead guilty.  In the State of Arizona, misdemeanors carry a potential sentence of 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.  Even in those cases where a jail sentence is unlikely, a criminal conviction can harm a person’s ability to gain employment or attend certain schools.  Any misdemeanor conviction is a criminal conviction so please be careful before you just plead guilty.

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