Most criminal cases still end with a Plea Bargain. In order to accept a plea bargain you must sign various documents. Most of these documents detail the crime you are charged with (range of punishment etc) and the rights you are giving up.
As a society we are used to ignoring forms and just signing what in front of us. Unlike the recent Mastercard you signed up for plea papers are a little more important. Today we are going to discuss a typical waiver of rights.
Remember the Bill of Rights? Before you accept a plea bargain you must waive it.
Right to Remain Silent- By pleading guilty you are giving up your right to remain silent. At the very least you are going to say “guilty”.
Some prosecutors require defendant’s to sign a “Judicial Confession.” A JC is basically the indictment copied verbatim with a spot below for the defendant to sign. This has always seemed redundant. You confess to committing the same offense you are trying to plead guilty to.
Most judges ask- “Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty and for no other reason.” This is a trick question. We all know that one of the reasons defendants plead guilty is because they want to accept the plea bargain. If the State was offering 20 years in jail instead of probation you would not plead guilty. However, when plea bargaining we like to pretend that the decision to plead guilty is made in a vacuum.
Right to a Jury Trial– Plea Bargain= No Trial. You had the right to make the State come to court and actually prove you did what they say you did. By pleading guilty you remove that burden.
It is well know that if every criminal case were set for trial the criminal justice system would shut down. That will never happen (see the Prisoner’s Dilemma).Plea bargains make it possible for the State to move many more cases that it could ever try.
By giving up the right to trial you also give up the right to testify, cross examine the State’s witnesses, and call witnesses. No trial, no witnesses.
Right To Appeal– If you had lost your trial you could have appealed to a higher court. In Texas we have a form telling Defendants that in a plea bargain you have no right to appeal. I usually sum this up by telling clients, inter alia, “After today your case is over.”