Pleas In Georgia Courts

Everything You Need To Know About Pleas in Georgia Criminal Court

There are a few kinds of pleas in Georgia criminal cases. These include Not Guilty pleas, Guilty pleas, Nolo Contendere pleas, and Alford pleas.

In this blog post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about pleas in Georgia criminal cases, including what they are and how they work. You’ll also learn how an experienced Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney can help you, even if you want to plead out in your case.

What Are the Different Types of Pleas?

The first kind of plea we’ll talk about is a Not Guilty plea. By entering a not guilty plea, you are telling the court that you wish to contest the charges. 

Often, defendants will plead not guilty in the early stages of proceedings to give their attorneys time to conduct an investigation, determine what defenses exist in the case, and negotiate with the prosecutor. Defendants will sometimes change their plea to a guilty plea later in proceedings. In that way, a Not Guilty plea acts somewhat like a placeholder to give the attorney time to do their job.

It’s important to note that maintaining a Not Guilty plea will ultimately lead to a trial. There is no such thing as a Not Guilty plea that resolves the case by itself. It will always result in a trial (unless you change your plea).

Guilty plea is the most obvious opposite of a Not Guilty plea. With a guilty plea, you legally take full responsibility for the offense and accept the punishment. A Guilty plea can be either negotiated or “blind,” which we’ll discuss later in this post. 

Nolo Contendere is a third type of plea. Nolo Contendere translates to No Contest. A nolo plea lies somewhere between a Guilty and a Not Guilty plea. Essentially, by pleading nolo, you are saying that you neither accept nor deny responsibility for the offense, but you agree to accept the punishment. A nolo plea may allow you to avoid some of the consequences of a conviction.

Read my blog post about Nolo Contendere here.

Nolo pleas are not available for all types of offenses, nor can all defendants take advantage of them. For example, drivers under 21 cannot avail themselves of a nolo plea. For many offenses, this means that they face an immediate license suspension. 

The fourth and final type of plea in Georgia criminal cases is the Alford Plea. In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty but continues to assert their innocence. It is sometimes referred to as a “best-interests” plea, because the defendant believes they are innocent but feels it is in their best interests to plead guilty and avoid a trial. 

The Alford plea is only available in felony cases.

The Alford plea is controversial and can be a risky move, because some judges like to see that you are taking responsibility for your actions. Some judges won’t even accept an Alford plea for this reason. Basically, an Alford plea rubs some judges the wrong way, and they can hold this against you at sentencing. In this situation, a Criminal Defense Attorney who knows the judges can be a huge benefit; they can give you a clearer picture of how the judge is likely to feel about your plea and how that will likely affect sentencing.

Different Kinds of Guilty Pleas

Other than Not Guilty pleas, all other pleas can be negotiated or non-negotiated.

negotiated plea is one where your Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney talks to the prosecutor and comes to an agreement about the outcome in the case. They may agree upon a certain amount of jail/prison time, probation, fines and fees, community service, and treatment. The prosecutor may reduce your charges in exchange for your plea. If you are charged with multiple offenses in the same case, the prosecutor may agree to drop some of them in exchange for your plea. 

It’s important to note that the plea bargaining process is highly individualized. How the process goes will depend on the personalities of the prosecutor and defense attorney, the policies of the DA’s office, and the facts of your specific case.

Click here to read my blog post about prosecutorial discretion.

Once your Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer has concluded negotiations with the prosecutor, they will discuss the plea agreement with you. You can choose whether to accept the negotiated sentence or go to trial. 

If you decide to proceed with the plea, you will go before the judge. Ultimately, judges decide sentences in Georgia criminal matters and can accept or reject the proposed plea agreement. However, if the judge disagrees with the sentence as negotiated, you can withdraw your plea. You can reassess, talk to your lawyer, and decide to take the case to trial.

non-negotiated plea (also known as a “blind” plea) happens when the State and the defense cannot agree to a sentence. For a non-negotiated plea, both sides appear before the judge at a sentencing hearing. The prosecutor and the defense both have an opportunity to tell the judge what they believe is an appropriate sentence. At the end of the hearing, the judge decides how to sentence the defendant. The judge may agree with one side or the other.

However, the judge is not bound to agree with either side. The judge may meet them in the middle. They can impose any sentence within the sentencing guidelines written into the applicable criminal statute.

One crucial point about a non-negotiated plea is that, unlike a negotiated plea, you cannot withdraw your plea if you disagree with the judge’s decision. You are bound by their decision.

The Logistics of a Plea

Guilty pleas, Nolo pleas, and Alford pleas may happen at various points in a criminal case. They can happen as early as arraignment.

But click here to learn more about arraignment and why it’s usually a bad idea to plead out at arraignment.

Once you have made the decision to plead guilty, you will appear before the judge. The judge may have a set day for pleas, or it may happen at a calendar call or other court date. 

When you arrive at the court, you will meet with your Criminal Defense Attorney before going in front of the judge. They will go over paperwork with you. This will usually include lengthy plea paperwork, which will have numerous questions about your rights. Here’s an excerpt from Cherokee County’s plea paperwork (click to view the whole thing):

Cherokee County Plea Paperwork

Once you have finalized your paperwork, you will go before the judge. The judge will typically ask you many of the same questions you discussed with your attorney while filling out the plea paperwork. Essentially, the judge wants to make sure that you understand what you are pleading guilty to and what rights you are giving up by pleading guilty. They also want to ensure that you know that a conviction could result in collateral consequences and that you are pleading guilty freely and voluntarily. This questioning from the judge is known as the plea colloquy. 

After the judge sentences you, your sentence begins. Depending on the sentence, you may be taken into custody or be required to meet with probation immediately. 

Pleas in Absentia

In some limited situations, you may be able to enter a plea in absentia. This means that your attorney is entering your plea without you. Pleas in absentia are typically reserved for minor traffic matters that can be resolved with a fine rather than probation or a jail term. They can be extremely helpful for people who live out of state. But you usually will need a lawyer in order to plead in absentia

Questions? Give me a call.

If there is anything I haven’t covered, feel free to reach out and give me a call. Every case is different, and you should speak with an attorney who can help you decide what kind of plea is best in your case. Ultimately, the decision is yours. But I understand that the decision can be difficult. And I believe in empowering clients and helping them make the best decision for their individual case. If you have questions, give me a call today.

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