I'm Guilty. Do I Still Need a Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyer?
So, you’re guilty. Whether it was a mistake, poor judgment call, or an intentional act - you’re accused of a crime and you know you did it. What’s the point of hiring a Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer?
Actually, there are many reasons.
The first thing to understand is you aren’t likely to get a favorable deal from prosecutors just because you agreed to plead guilty right away. This is particularly true if you haven’t consulted with a defense lawyer and carefully considered all the consequences. Most favorable outcomes for defendants are the result of a defense lawyer’s avid representation - which can include negotiations with prosecutors for lesser charges and penalties in exchange for a speedy guilty plea. While each case is different, most guilty defendants still have several means of mitigating penalty severity with the help of a qualified defense lawyer.
As noted by the American Bar Association’s Standards for Defense Counsel Function, defense attorneys are ethically bound to zealously represent all their clients. This includes individuals the attorney believes will be found guilty, as well as those they think are factually innocent. Criminal defense lawyers have a constitutional duty to provide high-quality representation, ensure due process, protect your civil rights, and advocate for the best possible outcome in your case - whether you’re guilty or not. Actual guilt or innocence can certainly impact the quality of evidence either side has to work with, but it also comes down to what can be proven or disproved in a court of law. Some of the evidence that police or prosecutors have against you may not actually be admissible in court.
Hiring a defense lawyer early on in the process helps ensure you don’t unintentionally say something that strengthens the case against you. A suspect’s confession can be powerful evidence for the prosecution. A criminal defense lawyer can advise you if providing such a statement is in your best interests, or if you’re better off exercising your right to remain silent. The less evidence you can provide to the prosecution, the weaker their case will be - and the better position your defense attorney will be in to advocate for lesser penalties.
Even if the evidence against you is strong, we can often still negotiate with prosecutors to avoid the ordeal of a trial if our client agrees to enter a guilty plea - for a less serious charge or with certain more favorable conditions.
Finally, keep in mind that the criminal court’s job doesn’t end with determining guilt vs. innocence. There’s sentencing to consider. This portion of the process will dictate what your future looks like. In some cases, the sentencing phase can be likened to its own mini-trial. (In capital or life felony cases, sentencing actually is an entirely separate proceeding, per F.S. 921.141).
There are of course sentencing guidelines depending on the crime, but the range is often broad and judges do have considerable discretion.
For example, a third-degree felony conviction in Florida carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, per F.S. 775.082(9)(a). But there is no minimum penalty. So a person could serve five years - or no prison time at all. What makes the difference? The final sentence will likely take into account your prior criminal record, whether the crime was one of violence, and the adverse impact to others. Having a skilled defense lawyer who can advocate on your behalf, challenge any aggravating circumstances, and underscore any mitigating factors can go a long way toward securing a lower sentence.Don’t Plead Guilty Before Talking to a Defense Lawyer
Even if you are guilty, don’t admit to it until you’ve spoken to a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer. We understand emotions are running high and perhaps you just want to own up and move past this. But if you’re too hasty, there are some important factors you may be overlooking:
- You might be misunderstanding the law. You may have done something about which you aren’t proud. But did you commit the crime of which you’re accused? Maybe not. Every criminal charge requires very specific elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. Depending on the crime, these elements can sometimes involve a detailed factual analysis. Every element of the crime must be present, and it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. You may presume you were in the wrong, but the law might actually say otherwise.
- There could be a valid defense. Sometimes actions that would typically be unlawful can be legal under certain conditions. For example, you may have physically battered someone, but it would not be a crime if you did so because you reasonably believed such force was necessary to prevent harm to yourself, others, or personal property. If you haven’t talked to a lawyer yet, you may not realize that the possibility of such a defense exists in your case.
- There might be alternatives to conviction. Depending on the situation, you may be eligible for a deferred prosecution, which is a voluntary alternative to adjudication if you agree to meet similar requirements. If you agree to meet conditions such as regular drug testing, counseling, substance abuse treatment, etc. you might be able to avoid a conviction that will result in a permanent criminal record. But prosecutors won’t necessarily put this on the table for your benefit. Your defense lawyer may need to advocate for it.
- Your rights might have been violated. If the evidence against you was obtained in a way that violated your constitutional rights, that evidence won’t be admissible in court. That means neither the judge nor the jury would be able to even consider it. For instance, if you aren’t read your Miranda rights prior to questioning, your subsequent confession to police may be inadmissible. As another example, if you are pulled over by an officer who lacked a valid basis for reasonable suspicion, then any evidence gleaned as a result of that stop may be inadmissible. This is sometimes referred to as “the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.” You won’t know whether it applies until you have a defense lawyer carefully examine the facts.
- You may be underestimating prosecutorial and/or judicial discretion. Both prosecutors and judges have a great deal of discretion in deciding what charges should apply, which evidence can be considered, and what sort of penalty should be imposed. A good criminal defense lawyer can sometimes negotiate and present mitigating circumstances and convince one or the other that a guilty plea on a lesser charge or for a reduced penalty is still reasonable and in the interest of justice.
- You might be overlooking just how far-reaching the consequences of a conviction can be. Penalties for a criminal conviction in Florida often can extend far beyond just jail and fines. A permanent criminal record can impact child custody/parenting time, employment and education opportunities, voting rights, Second Amendment rights, and more. These aren’t the sort of things you want to forego without carefully considering all your options.
It’s in your best interests to be well informed about the significant developments of your case, to continually understand and weigh potential options and outcomes, and to recognize what approaches are most likely in your favor. A defense lawyer is duty bound to provide you with this insight - even if they know you are guilty.
If you have been arrested in South Florida, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.