In Orlando and throughout Central Florida, a defendant in a criminal case typically enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest at the arraignment hearing, which is usually scheduled to occur within 30 days of the initial court appearance. What happens if you plead not guilty to the charge(s) against you?
Ultimately those who plead not guilty to a misdemeanor or felony offense go to trial. Depending on the case, you may be tried before a judge or a jury of your peers. Most misdemeanor charges are tried before a judge, although felony charges may go before a judge rather than a jury in some cases.Preparing For Trial with Depositions
Prior to your case going to trial, your Orlando criminal defense attorney may choose to proceed to a deposition, or even more than one deposition. While expensive, a deposition is a good way to thoroughly prepare for trial as your lawyer, along with the individual to be questioned and state attorney, are able to question witnesses, experts, and even victims regarding the case in an effort to learn how these individuals will answer at the actual trial. The disposition concerns only those who will testify at trial, along with the defense and state attorneys; no jury, judge, or bailiff will be present.
Another advantage of depositions is that the answers provided by witnesses, victims, and experts can be challenged, tested so that the defense or state can explore potential weaknesses, and their answers expanded upon in order to reveal any potential weaknesses in the case against the defendant. While it is costly, a deposition (or depositions) can be extremely effective when building a solid defense strategy on behalf of the defendant.Going to Trial with a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer
Going forward to trial is the next step, and involves presenting your case before the judge or jury, which is usually stressful as it is impossible to predict the decision of the jury or judge. Even when you have the most experienced, aggressive, and skilled defense lawyer there is no way to know what the jury or judge will decide - whether you are guilty or innocent. This is extremely stressful for the defendant, particularly in serious felony cases where the punishment for a conviction may include substantial time in prison, steep fines, a criminal record, and other sanctions that can negatively impact your future, reputation, career, family relationships, and more.
Once you make the decision to plead guilty and go to trial, it is unlikely the prosecutor will offer a plea deal or plea agreement in which you can plead guilty to a lesser offense or no contest. Essentially, you will be found innocent or guilty of the criminal charge(s) against you. In most cases, the penalties for those convicted (found guilty) at trial are substantially more severe than those the defendant would have faced had he or she accepted a plea deal.
That said, when someone is absolutely innocent of the charges leveled against him or her, it is difficult to plead guilty or no contest, as even this will impact your reputation and ultimately your life. When it is best to have your case tried before a jury or judge, your lawyer will work vigorously to defend your innocence by presenting compelling arguments against the evidence, witness statements that may be harmful, and by obtaining evidence that may benefit your case along with witnesses for the defense. You have the constitutional right to testify, or refuse to testify on the witness stand.
Sentencing is the next phase. Once the jury or judge has determined that you are guilty of the criminal charges, the sentence you will face will be pronounced right away if the offense was charged as a misdemeanor. For those convicted of a felony offense, you may face a sentencing hearing in which the defense and prosecution argue for a sentence that is more or less severe and may include additional evidence that influences the sentence you receive. If you are acquitted (found innocent) of the charge(s), you are free to go and will have no criminal record to impact your future or career.
Contact us now for a free consultation with our experienced criminal defense lawyers. We serve Central Florida.