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Guilty or not? It's up to you to decide how to plead

Plea bargaining is something your attorney may talk to you about if you are likely to be found guilty of a crime and can see a significant reduction in penalties by taking a guilty plea. According to the Offices of the United States Attorneys, the government is able to offer a plea deal to help a defendant avoid trial and to, potentially, reduce the risk of a more serious or lengthy sentence.

Did you know that a defendant can only plead guilty when they actually did commit the crime, according to the law? If you decide to admit to a crime, you are agreeing that you are guilty and asking a judge to sentence you. The judge is the only person who can do that, but prosecutors can ask that you not face an enhanced sentence or ask for certain reductions in penalties or charges. In the end, though, it is up to the judge to decide what happens next.

What happens if you don't want to plea bargain?

If you decide not to plead guilty, then there will be a preliminary hearing in most cases. At this stage, the prosecution has the burden of proving that there is enough evidence to charge you. Witnesses may be called, and evidence can be introduced. Your attorney can cross-examine witnesses as well. At this stage, the goal is to show that there is not enough for the prosecution to pursue a claim, so that the judge will decide to dismiss the charges.

It's up to you to decide how you want to plead. Your attorney will work with you to help you understand the benefits or risks of pleading guilty or not guilty, depending on the specifics of your case.

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