What Constitutional Rights do I Waive When Pleading Guilty?
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” This is the first Miranda right announced in the event of an arrest. It’s also the first right you are required to give up when accepting a plea bargain. Because you must physically answer “Guilty, your Honor”, you automatically give up the right to remain silent. The court can also question you, and you must respond audibly.
The Right to not Incriminate Yourself
Pleading guilty means that you admit to the charges being brought before you and in so doing, incriminate yourself. It is impossible to plead guilty and not do so. Therefore, your fifth amendment rights do not hold in such cases.
When you plead “guilty” or “no contest”, you forfeit the right to a jury trial, which is included in the sixth amendment. Announcing your guilt to the judge negates the need for a trial since their purpose is to determine guilt.
There is also a possibility that at trial you could receive a lesser sentence. It is important to understand that you give up this opportunity, and will be given a sentence compatible with the charges brought before you.
The Right to Have the State Prove Guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
This also means the state no longer has to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, you do not get the opportunity to challenge the way the state has gathered evidence against you.
Along with forfeiting a jury trial, you also give up the possibility of a bench trial. A bench trial has no jury; you are simply tried before the judge who then determines your innocence or guilt and sentences you based on the law and their interpretation of the situation. This is another sixth amendment exclusion.
Challenge Evidence and Confront Witnesses
Also outlined in the sixth amendment you have the right to challenge evidence and confront witnesses. This would be included in a trial, but the defendant no longer has that right after pleading guilty.
You also give up the right to appeal if the court finds you guilty.
The Right to Present Evidence and Have Witnesses Testify for You
Just as you can no longer confront witnesses against you, you cannot bring witnesses forth to testify on your behalf. You may not present evidence to the court either.
Why Take a Plea Bargain?
In some cases, the prosecution may agree to reduce the number of charges or the severity of the punishment inflicted on the defendant. The prosecution can also recommend that the judge reduce their sentence if they admit guilt. If the defendant is certain that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict them of a crime, it may be beneficial for them to plead guilty.
At the end of the day, the decision to plead guilty is between you and your attorney. If you have questions or need legal advice, call (406)542-2233 to get ahold of our experienced lawyers.