Pleading Guilty And Expecting Mercy From Court

Interviewer: With the drug case, if someone says, “Hey, look they caught me red-handed, you know, I got caught with drugs and I admitted to it, so I’m pleading guilty.  If I feel guilty, should I throw myself to the mercy of the court?”

Glen Malia: Absolutely not.  Like any other type of criminal charge, whether or not you’re guilty or not, it’s just one element of what’s going to ultimately happen. In the court system, everyone uses the terminology “plea bargaining”. Plea bargaining is largely because the court system would be completely overwhelmed and could not properly run if everybody insists on going to trial. So, particularly for a first time defendant or even maybe a second time defendant, you don’t want to just go in and plead guilty and throw yourself on the mercy of the court because there are many options on plea bargaining that can take place. For example, a class A misdemeanor or simple possession of controlled substance, let’s say, gets caught with cocaine and they have no prior criminal involvement, this is their first time they’ve been arrested. 

New York State Does Not Have an Expungement Statute, So a Guilty Plea Stays on a Person’s Record Forever

If they go to court and plead guilty, they’ve now settled themselves with a misdemeanor conviction for drug possession for the rest of their life because New York State does not have any type of provision for wiping out, for expunging criminal convictions. Although by doing that and throwing yourself on the mercy of the court, maybe the court sentences a one-year conditional discharge, which is effectively a slap on the wrist, maybe a fine or something of that nature so the actual sentence is not that serious but you still have a prominent record.  So, on the first time offense, a lot of different alternatives apply. Your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges or to plea down to a non-misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, which is only a violation and it’s not deemed to be a criminal conviction. It allows for the court record to be sealed so you’re not settled with a criminal conviction the rest of your life.

The Courts May Hand Out a Stiff Sentence in Lieu of a Guilty Plea in New York

The sentence may end up being the same, a one-year conditional discharge and a fine but still more important than that is you’re not potentially ruining your career potential by pleading guilty to a drug misdemeanor.  Over and above that, even if your attorney can’t get it down to a non-criminal charge because maybe you have a prior conviction or something of that nature or maybe previously, you had a disorderly conduct of a drug charge, an attorney can still may be able to plead it down to a lesser serious charge. Also, by plea bargaining; at the time you enter a plea, you know what this sentence is going to be.  Whereas, if you go in and just plead guilty as charged and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, you have no knowledge whether that judge is going to give you a conditional discharge, or he’s going to give you a probation or send you to jail.  Obviously, it never makes sense to plead guilty and throw yourself on the mercy of the court without knowing what that mercy is going to be.

The Courts in New York Will Not Allow an Unrepresented Individual Plead Guilty Before Consulting An Attorney

The other thing that comes into play on a drug possession charge is that courts will not let an unrepresented individual plead guilty without at least consulting with an attorney, so that they know what the consequences are and they know what their possible defenses are and things of that nature because the courts have to make sure that the defendant has a good idea of knowing what they’re doing. Perhaps the most important reason is even though you’re found with the drugs, you admitted possession of drugs and all the other stuff, an attorney may be able to find something that creates a defense to the case. Whether it’s because the police officer had no grounds to stop you or whether there is a situation where the lab report doesn’t come back showing the drugs that were supposed to be there or something of that nature.  There are a lot of things a lawyer knows best that the average person doesn’t know about, they need at least to be looked at before making determination of pleading guilty or not.

Malia Law, LLC located in Cortlandt Manor, NY represents Landlords/Tenants throughout Westchester County, Putnam County and Southern Dutchess County, NY.

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