Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Don't plead guilty...

Guilt is a funny thing, pleading guilty isn’t. At arraignment, defendants often decide that it is best to plead guilty and just take your medicine. People do this for many reasons, one of which may be for a guilty conscience, or because they want to put the case behind them and move on, or for even a sense of honor and doing the right thing or maybe even for their machismo. Whatever the reason, the decision to plead guilty at arraignment is a bad idea on many levels, none of which have anything to do for why you think it’s a good idea.

Like it or not, you’ve got a life. Pleading guilty has an adverse impact on your life and the amount of that impact is always a matter of degree. At the very least, an adverse impact of your guilty plea is it goes on your record, and it will stay there, forever, the metaphorical black mark. Even objectively, having something that is going to follow you around for ever just doesn’t sound good.

What else does that guilty plea do to you? Do you know? Is it going to have a consequence you haven’t thought of? It probably will. Besides the obvious fine or possible period of incarceration, a plea of guilty can result in not only a suspension of your drivers license in some cases, but it is could result in a suspension of your hunting or fishing license. A plea of guilty could prevent you from going to Canada or worse, send you back home if you are not a citizen. A guilty plea can disabuse you of your hunting rifles or even make you ineligible for a future job or for federal student loans. The point is there are countless collateral consequences that can result from a guilty plea and it’s a sure bet you do not know what they are, and its even a safer bet that it will have an unwelcome, unplanned and adverse effect on your life. Think about it… these consequences are not worth the time you save by pleading guilty, and the adverse impact is often much more draconian than the sentences authorized by statute. You paid your fine, you did your time, that should be it right? Not always.

Basically, a guilty plea is game over. In order to take it, the Judge must assure that you are making it knowingly and voluntarily and that you have been informed of your rights. These are pie crust protections. You are assumed to be informed of your rights because you were so lucky to have seen the arraignment video before arraignment. You are presumed to have made your guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily because the Judge asked you if you are making your plea knowingly and voluntarily after being apprised of your rights. Moreover, this pleasant conversation with the Judge becomes part of the record. Now why is that?

That is because if in a month down the road from pleading guilty you learn that you are ineligible for one thing or another as a result of your guilty plea, you can’t come back to Court to withdraw your plea because you didn’t realize your newfound ineligibility. You’re on the record telling the Judge that you pled guilty knowingly and voluntarily. You can submit a motion to withdraw your plea, but it is a real long shot that it will be granted.

What is the safe and smart move? Preserve your rights at arraignment and plead NOT GUILTY no matter how you feel about it. Go and talk to somebody about what is going to happen as a result of pleading guilty. That somebody should be an experienced attorney. An attorney should be able to tell you what the possible collateral consequences of a guilty plea would be. An experienced attorney can discuss the possible collateral consequences of a guilty plea that extend beyond the boarders of your state, or that have an effect on the licenses you hold, fishing or otherwise. No matter what the charge, you should be fully apprised of the ramifications of a guilty plea before you make it and unless you discussed it with an attorney beforehand, you don’t have all the facts. Protect yourself by seeking out the advice of counsel before you plead guilty at any stage of your case.

William T. Bly, Esq.
Maine OUI Lawyer