Does entering a guilty plea ensure you won’t serve prison time?
A surprising percentage of those accused of criminal offenses in Texas choose to plead guilty rather than to defend themselves in court. There are many reasons that people give for entering a guilty plea right away.
Some people worry about the publicity that might come from a criminal trial, even if they assert their own innocence. Others face multiple charges or very serious allegations, like felony charges, that the prosecutor will potentially reduce to misdemeanor offenses if they plead guilty.
In some cases, people assume that if they plead guilty and cooperate with the court that they can avoid jail time or the worst penalties the state could impose. For most criminal defendants, that won’t actually be true.
Your sentence depends on the law and the judge
The potential criminal consequences aren’t always something that your plea will affect. Some charges come with mandatory sentences. For example, capital murder typically results in a sentence of at least life imprisonment without parole. Even when there are no mandatory penalties, a judge will typically have the final say in your consequences.
Unless you have a lawyer that facilitates a written plea bargain including specific sentencing provisions, the chances are quite good that a judge could still sentence you to a period of incarceration despite your decision to plead guilty. The potential jail time could be only a few days in some cases or years in others.
Jail isn’t the only concern
Fighting back against your criminal charges and proving yourself innocent will absolutely eliminate the risk of incarceration. It will also protect you from having a criminal record. The unfortunate truth is that even if the state allows you to lead to a lesser offense, those performing background checks will typically assume that you were guilty of the more serious original charge and act accordingly.
For example, employers or landlords might deny your application on the basis of a prior felony charge even though you pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense. There are typically multiple different defense strategies that could help those accused of a crime in Texas.
Learning more about your criminal defense options can help you feel confident about defending yourself instead of pleading guilty.