You will have many decisions to make if you are charged with a criminal offense in Arizona. One of the most important decisions you will need to make in your criminal case is whether to plead guilty to the crime you were arrested for or to a reduced charge. This decision can be even more complicated if you are falsely accused of committing a crime.
Seven Essential Considerations You Need to Weigh Before Making Your Final Decision
#1: Your Right to an Attorney
You have a right to be represented by a lawyer in your criminal case. If you cannot afford to hire one, the court can appoint one to represent you at no cost to you.
You should never make a decision about pleading guilty until you have retained a skilled criminal defense lawyer who can identify your defenses and explain your options to you.
#2: Your Ability to Withdraw Your Plea
You may not be able to withdraw a guilty plea if you change your mind. In Arizona, you have a right to withdraw your plea before the judge approves it. However, once you plead guilty and the judge accepts, it can be harder to withdraw your plea. After that, it would be at the judge’s discretion to allow you to file a motion to withdraw your plea.
#3: Your Criminal Record
You will have a criminal record if you plead guilty or are found guilty at a trial. Your criminal record will be permanent unless you can get your conviction expunged, which can be difficult to do in Arizona.
Your criminal record would be a public record, which others could search. A criminal record can affect your ability to obtain housing, an education, employment, and more.
#4: Presumption of Innocence
There is a presumption that you are innocent when you are charged with a crime in Arizona. This is true no matter what crime you are accused of committing or whether you are guilty or innocent. You will be presumed to be innocent unless you plead guilty or are found guilty by the judge or jury at a trial.
#5: Your Constitutional Rights
You have important constitutional rights when facing criminal charges. Some of these include:
- Right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself
- Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
- Right to an attorney
If your constitutional rights were violated, statements and confessions you made and evidence collected by the police might not be admissible. You waive your right to raise these issues that could result in the charges being dismissed if you plead guilty.
#6: Your Defenses
You could have other strong defenses to the charges you face—even if you are guilty. Before deciding to enter a guilty plea, you need to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer. They will investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest, the evidence against you, and your possible defenses.
They will also determine whether the prosecutor can prove every element of the crime you are charged with committing. The prosecutor has the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt—which can be challenging to establish in some criminal cases.
Once your lawyer evaluates the prosecution’s case against you and your defenses, they can explain the strengths and weaknesses of your defenses and the possible outcomes if you choose to take your case to trial. This information is crucial to your decision on whether to plead guilty.
#7: Your Sentence
Before deciding to plead guilty, you need to know the possible punishments you face.
Many criminal cases are resolved through a plea agreement where the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges or the sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. You need to understand precisely what the prosecutor is offering in the plea bargain before deciding whether to accept it.
Even if the prosecutor refuses to offer you a plea agreement, you may consider pleading guilty. Before making this decision, you need to know the minimum and maximum sentence the judge could impose, the likely outcome given the crime you would be pleading guilty to committing, and your prior criminal history.
Have you or a loved one been charged with a crime in Northern Arizona or Flagstaff? Our experienced criminal defense lawyers are here to mount a vigorous defense strategy for you to help you achieve the best possible outcome in your criminal case given your situation.
Order our free book, Accused of a Crime in Arizona: What Happens Next Is Up to You, to start learning about what you can expect in your criminal case. Then call our Flagstaff office at 928-226-0165 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.