Will I Have to Go to Trial if I Plead Not Guilty?

An arrest is a traumatic experience on its own, to say nothing of the stress of facing criminal charges. The idea of needing to go into court and have a prosecutor try to convince a jury that you broke the law while examining your life and history isn’t pleasant.

Many people, even those who did not actually commit the crime of which they were accused, would rather plead guilty than endure the stress and possible publicity involved in a criminal trial. If you negotiate a plea deal or enter a guilty plea, do you still have to go through a trial?

Those who plead guilty usually must appear in court

As a general rule, even those who plead guilty will have to go to court. They will not face a trial that involved the presentation of evidence or the testimony of witnesses. However, they will likely have to affirm their guilty plea in depth to a judge in court. They may also need to sit through sentencing hearings if the plea bargain didn’t include agreeing to a specific penalty.

Sentencing hearings can sometimes include evidence, such as victim statements, which can feel like going through a trial. Still, these hearings usually take far less time than a trial will. If you want to minimize how much time you spend in court and how much information becomes public record, a guilty plea can be an expedient solution.

Thousands of people plead guilty while knowing they are innocent

If you find yourself thinking that a guilty plea, especially one entered as part of a plea bargain that minimizes your sentences, seems better than trying to prove your innocence, you certainly aren’t alone.

According to a data analysis performed by the Innocence Project, a national organization that looks at the criminal justice system, roughly 97% of all criminal prosecutions, both federal and state, in the United States results in a defendant entering a guilty plea. Only 3% of cases go to trial, often because those accused of crimes worry about the serious charges brought against them or mandatory minimum sentences.

Before you make any major decisions regarding the criminal charges against you, it is likely wise to talk to someone with more experience in these matters to determine what options you may have.