What makes a person plead guilty? Unfortunately, it is often not actually being guilty. Unlike what crime dramas would lead you to believe, the vast majority of criminal cases end up not going to trial, but end with the defendant exchanging a guilty plea for a reduction in the degree of the crime, the number of crimes charged, or a reduced sentence. In the right situation, a plea bargain can be your best bet, but you want to be sure that you weren’t pressured into it by the prosecution.
If you’re undergoing legal problems, you want a dedicated criminal defense lawyer on your side to help you make the right decisions. Contact Brian Karalus of Karalus Law today.
Different Degree, Same Meaning
For example, courts in Minnesota now consider forcible sexual assault as any sexual assault where there is unwanted contact. Fifth-degree sexual assault used to be differentiated from fourth-degree sexual assault because force was needed in fourth-degree sexual assault. The legislature intended force to be defined as some sort of unwanted violent contact, not including the sexual assault itself. Now that force is included in the unwanted sexual contact, the behavior needed for both degrees of sexual assault is the same.
However, they are not punished in the same way. Fourth-degree sexual assault and fifth-degree sexual assault can carry vastly different sentences.
These two degrees of sexual assault are synonymous, which gives prosecutors leverage. A prosecutor will often charge a defendant with fourth-degree sexual assault in order to force the hand of the defendant and his criminal defense attorney to agree to the lesser charge of fifth-degree sexual assault. The same is true with a force requirement and degrees of rape.
This policy doesn’t allow courts to differentiate between a more serious crime where some kind of extra violence is used when committing a sexual assault. Also, a person facing serious criminal charges might very well decide it is in their best interest to mitigate the damage by agreeing to a lesser charge, even if they are not guilty.
Additionally, a prosecutor might decide to bring many different charges for one action. For example, if a person stole five candy bars from a store, this could be charged as five different counts of theft, even though the theft was born out of one bad action. The defendant would be faced with a similar dilemma as above. A prosecutor would likely offer to drop some of the charges if the defendant and her criminal defense attorney agree to plead guilty to the others. Even if the defendant did not commit the crime, the defendant might decide they are better off pleading guilty to one crime rather than facing the possibility of being found guilty for all five charges.
Allowing prosecutors this kind of leverage both nullifies the intent of the legislature when making these laws and forces innocent defendants to plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit or risk facing serious consequences.
The difference between risking conviction by fighting a charge and a plea deal can mean the difference between facing years in prison or remaining free to work, see family, and continue on with daily life. In order for our justice system to work correctly, every individual should be given an opportunity to have their voice heard in a court of law. Charging a defendant with a more serious degree of crime, or many crimes at the same time, incentivizes a defendant to settle, whether or not they are guilty.
This is why is important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. If you require legal representation in Minnesota or Wisconsin, then contact Karalus Law today.