This brief guide answers common questions about plea bargains and no-contest pleas in New Braunfels. You will also learn where to obtain the legal advice and services you’ll need before entering any plea to criminal charges in New Braunfels and Central Texas.
In Texas, after being arrested, defendants are asked at their first court appearance to enter a plea. The plea options are guilty, not guilty, and no contest. Before entering a plea, a defendant in New Braunfels or Central Texas should have the advice of a criminal defense lawyer.
Everyone knows what the pleas of “guilty” and “not guilty” mean. If a defendant pleads guilty, they are admitting their guilt. A plea of not guilty is an assertion of innocence. But what does it mean to plea “no contest” to a criminal charge? Is there an advantage to pleading no contest?
Outcomes of a Guilty or Not Guilty Plea
Once the State charges a defendant with a crime, law enforcement officers bring the defendant before a judge for an arraignment. The arraignment is a hearing where the judge tells the defendant why the police arrested them. Usually, the judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea. If the defendant’s announcement is not guilty, the court will set their case for trial. However, trials are usually postponed for some time, allowing the prosecution and defense attorney to negotiate an outcome.
When a defendant announces that they are guilty, the defendant is confessing their guilt. When the defendant admits guilt, they will waive their right to a trial, and the judge will sentence them.
Advantages of a No Contest Plea
When a defendant pleas no contest, they avoid admitting guilt and say they want to move on without contesting the charges. However, for sentencing, the outcome is the same as pleading guilty. But, there is one exception to this fact.
In cases involving serious injuries and property damage, a no-contest plea may be the best plea a defendant can enter. The reason is that in cases involving injuries and property damage, a criminal defendant will likely face civil penalties in addition to criminal ones. Civil penalties include personal injury or property damage lawsuits to recover judgments for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, property damage, and other losses.
When a defendant pleads guilty, opposing attorneys may use their plea against them in a civil lawsuit arising from the criminal conduct. However, the advantage of a no-contest plea is that opposing attorneys cannot use it as an admission of fault in a collateral civil case. Other than in these specific circumstances, there is no advantage for a defendant in Central Texas to plea no contest rather than entering a guilty plea.
Courts Are Not Required to Accept a No Contest Plea
Texas courts are not required to accept a no-contest plea. Furthermore, no-contest pleas are not allowed in Texas felony cases. Prosecutors must accept no-contest pleas before the parties can present the plea to a judge. Most prosecutors will reject a no-contest plea on a deferred case since a judge cannot use the plea to adjudicate the case.
Even in cases where the State accepts the defense’s offer of a no-contest plea, the court may accept or reject it. To decide whether or not to accept a no-contest plea, the judge will consider the facts of the case, including whether or not the defendant is trying to avoid civil liabilities in a collateral lawsuit.
Do Not Plea Guilty or No Contest if Innocent
If a defendant is innocent of the charges filed against them, they should not plead guilty or no contest. A skilled criminal defense attorney will fight for a dismissal in these cases. However, suppose the court or prosecution will not dismiss the charges. In that case, the defendant should request a jury trial. The defendant is entitled to a jury trial under the United States and Texas constitutions.
In cases where a defendant is innocent, a criminal defense attorney can use their expertise to investigate the accusations and look for deficiencies in the State’s evidence. They can also protect the defendant’s constitutional rights and explain to jurors why they should acquit the defendant.
Every defendant should immediately call a New Braunfels criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest. The defendant should have their lawyer accompany them to the arraignment and all other court proceedings.
When to Accept a Plea Deal
A defense attorney should review any plea deal before a defendant accepts it. Defendants should never try to negotiate a plea deal themselves because the legal system is complicated, and prosecutors use that complexity to their advantage. In other words, a defendant should put their defense attorney to work by allowing them to use their experience on their client’s behalf. Defendants should always hire a defense lawyer that is a trained and experienced negotiator.
A plea deal is a legally binding contract between the defendant and the State of Texas. It binds the parties to the charges, punishment, and agreement terms and resolves the criminal case against the defendant. The vast majority of federal and Texas criminal cases are resolved through plea deals since they provide the best possible outcome for the parties.
In the average plea deal, a defendant exchanges a guilty plea for a reduced sentence. The defendant usually waives their appellant rights or their rights to challenge the sentence at a later date. The important fact is that the defense should almost always reject the State’s first offer. Defendants should listen to their defense attorney when the parties negotiate a plea deal so that they receive the best possible outcome.
The Reasons Prosecutors Offer Plea Deals
Texas prosecutors offer plea deals in the vast majority of criminal cases. The simple reason is that prosecutors are extremely busy and handle dozens, if not hundreds, of cases at any particular time. They cannot expect to take every case to trial. Plus, trials are not the justest outcome in most criminal cases.
Trials typically occur in cases where the evidence is not entirely clear, or defendants do not want to accept guilt or are innocent. Plus, no one, not even a prosecutor, can predict a jury’s verdict.
Plea deals are the best way for prosecutors to move their cases through Texas’ criminal courts without wasting time or gambling on outcomes they cannot predict.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
If the State has charged you with a crime in New Braunfels, immediately call an experienced criminal defense lawyer. This defense attorney should have experience negotiating thousands of plea deals. They will know which offers to reject or accept and which plea you should enter.
Contact me for a free case review if you are charged with a crime in Comal County or other Central Texas counties such as Hays County, Guadalupe County, Travis County, or Bexar County.