Why You Should Seek Good Legal Counsel Before You Plead Guilty to a Crime in Virginia

by J.D. Garrett on October 1, 2013

Pleading guilty to a crime – rather than going to trial – is not uncommon in Virginia; but many are unaware of the long-lasting consequences of pleading guilty. According to NBC, there were roughly 186,000 criminal cases in Virginia in 2012. Of those 186,000 cases, a mere 1% went to trial, while an astounding 52% of cases ended with a plea deal between the prosecutor and defense. This common practice of pleading guilty instead of fighting the charges undermines a fundamental value in American courts.

Guily PleasAt the heart of our criminal justice system lies the principle that people accused of a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty. (Take a look at Coffin v. United States) In essence, this means that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone charged with a crime actually committed every element of that crime. The State has the burden of bringing forth evidence that is sufficient to convince a judge or jury that the person charged with a crime is guilty.

But when a person pleads guilty rather than going to trial, he deprives himself of this fundamental protection. By pleading guilty, you absolve the State from having to prove every element of the crime with which you are accused. While pleading guilty can reduce criminal sentences in some instances, for some people charged with crimes, pleading guilty can be the wrong choice.

The Consequences of Pleading Guilty – Edgar’s Story

When Edgar Coker, Jr., a Virginia native, was 15, he was accused of rape against a 14 year-old girl.  Edgar Jr. told his parents that he and his friend’s actions were consensual.  But, as reported by The Washington Post, Edgar Jr.’s lawyer convinced he and his family that Edgar Jr. should plead guilty. Rather than fighting the case, they decided that pleading guilty was better a better decision than risking being charged as an adult and serving an extended prison sentence.  Despite Edgar Jr.’s insistence that the sex was consensual, he ultimately pled guilty to the crime. Two months later, the 14 year-old girl admitted that Edgar Jr. did not rape her – the sex was consensual. Even though the girl recanted, Edgar Jr. spent 17 months in a juvenile prison.

Edgar Jr. did not avail himself to the fundamental presumption that he was innocent until proven guilty, and as a result, he still lives with the consequences. Under Virginia law, people who plead guilty to certain sex offenses are placed on the Virginia Sex Offense Registry. Despite his accuser’s recantation, Edgar Jr. remains on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry today. Aside from the most likely consequence of pleading guilty – incarceration – other consequences can include the loss of job opportunities, exclusion from public housing, and the loss of the ability to vote.

The criminal justice system is designed to protect those accused of a crime. It is in your best interest to avail yourself to this protection. It is imperative that you consult a criminal defense attorney if you or a loved one is arrested. Not only will attorneys help you understand the consequences of the crime with which you are charged, we will work to give you the legal defense that you deserve.

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