Last week I was in court and watched people pleading guilty. A man pled guilty to aggravated burglary. The state made an offer that he accepted and the man agreed to go to jail for six years. Typing this out took a few seconds. Saying the words would take a few seconds. So here is the question for the day. Why does a plea take so long?
Why does a plea take so long? Because the person entering a plea must understand some basic facts. The Tennessee Supreme Court has ordered that a judge do some specific things in each plea. A defendant must be talked to personally, in open court and must understand “the nature of the charges,” the maximum penalty, the right to counsel, that he or she has the right to plea not guilty, the right to a jury trial, the right of confrontation, the right to not testify against yourself, the fact that this will be the last procedure in this case, perjury implications and the impact of this charge regarding immigration and supervision for life. Wow that takes forever just to write. What does it mean and how does it answer “Why does a plea take so long?”
Why does a plea take so long? Because a person must know the nature of the charge against them. You were arrested for having marijuana. You agree to enter a plea to possessing marijuana. When you get in front of the judge he or she says so you were driving drunk on Columbia Avenue in Franklin. What? I was not driving, I had marijuana. You must understand the nature of the charge – what you are charged with. This is why some pleas take so long.
Why does a plea take so long? Because a person must know the maximum penalty for the charge to which they are pleading. Some courts want you to know the maximum penalty for the crime you were charged with and for the crime that you pled guilty to. When you hear what the maximum penalty is don’t freak out. This is not (hopefully) the punishment your getting. The judge must tell you the maximum and this is why a plea takes so long.
Why does a plea take so long? Because you must know that you have the right to a lawyer. You should always have a lawyer with you in court. What if you cannot afford a lawyer? In the case of Gideon v. Wainwright the U.S. Supreme Court said everyone has a right to counsel and if you cannot afford an attorney the court can appoint an attorney for you.
Why does a plea take so long? Because you have to understand that you do not have to give testimony against yourself. You could have shot John dead while being watched by a bus full of off duty police officers. You still CANNOT be made to give any evidence against yourself. You can remain silent. By the way – always remain silent!
Why does a plea take so long? Because you have to understand that the plea will be your last day in court on these charges. If you plea guilty there will not be a jury trial for the charges. You cannot come back to court a day from now and say “but I was innocent.” You just pled guilty. Make sure you understand – this is the LAST time you will talk to the judge about this case. Make sure this is what you want to do not what someone has made you do. No one has promised you something other than the deal between you and the DA. This is it – last chance. Make sure you understand. That’s why a plea can take so long.
Why does a plea take so long? Because you have to understand the impact of a plea on your immigration and your supervision status. Here is what I mean. You enter a plea because you could go to jail but the DA is offering a probation sentence. Sounds good right? If you are not from this country this “good deal” could become a terrible deal. What good is a no jail sentence if it gets you kicked out of the country. What good is a no jail deal if it means you will be on Community Supervision for Life. You could have rules, regulations and a probation officer for the rest of your life. There are some cases. Your plea can change the rest of your natural life. It is that important. This is why a plea can take so long.
Why does a plea take so long? Because it is very important and can change your life. Be careful. Have a lawyer. Listen to your lawyer. Be very careful. If you need a lawyer to fight for your rights call my office. We can take the time to listen to your legal problems and we may be able to help.