A plea is a defendant’s answer to criminal charges. There are three types of criminal pleas defendants may make under the Florida criminal justice system. A plea is typically made during the arraignment, which is the formal proceeding in which the criminal defendant is informed of all of the charges against him or her.
In most cases, there will be 30 days or fewer between the arraignment and first court appearance. It is in a defendant’s best interests to understand the implications of each plea prior to this portion of the criminal proceedings.
Below is an outline of the three types of criminal pleas the defendant may make.
1. Entering a Plea of Not Guilty
When a defendant enters a plea of not guilty, a trial date is set. Each side – the defense and the prosecution – sets to work building their respective cases. In this time, a defense team may have several weeks to file motions, which are formal requests for a judge. Some common motions include the motion to suppress evidence or for a change of venue (as in cases where local media coverage is likely to sway a jury).
A defendant who does not actively enter a plea – referred to by Florida laws as “standing mute or pleading evasively” – will have a plea of not guilty entered on his or her behalf.
2. Entering a Plea of No Contest (otherwise known as Nolo Contendere)
A plea of no contest – known in legal terms as nolo contendere – allows a defendant to accept a punishment without admitting guilt. This is relevant in the event that a guilty plea later could be used in a civil case or additional criminal charges.
This plea requires approval of the court or the prosecuting attorney. In some cases, a defendant may be able to withdraw a plea of guilty in favor of a plea of no contest.
3. Entering a Plea of Guilty
A defendant who pleads guilty to a crime waives some rights, including the right to a trial by jury and to refrain from incriminating oneself. A plea of guilty must be made voluntarily and only when a defendant understands the consequences of such a plea. Entering a plea of guilty does provide the defendant with an opportunity to seek or accept a plea bargain.
The choice of plea can have lifelong consequences. For help determining the right plea in a criminal case, contact an attorney. Call (877) 663-5110.