Hidden costs in taking a guilty plea

photo by Victor1558, by CC license on Flickr

photo by Victor1558, Flickr CC license

Pleading guilty in a criminal case can sometimes seem like the only option. A criminal defendant might feel like it’s just not worth fighting it, even if he or she is innocent. But often, this decision is made without understanding how a guilty plea affects one’s life 3, 5, or 10 years down the road. It can be a lot more severe than having to check the criminal history box on a job application and explain the situation at an interview.

The reality is that making a guilty plea sacrifices certain key protections that every citizen has guaranteed by the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant the right against self-incrimination, the right to a jury trial, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and the right to make the government prove its case “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Additionally, a guilty plea may also sacrifice the right to challenge any unconstitutional searches, seizures, or confessions that may have occurred. These are basic freedoms that every American has, and are so important that every judge in Illinois is required by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 402 to make sure a guilty plea is made voluntarily, with full understanding of the legal consequences of the plea, such as the maximum penalty that can be imposed in sentencing or further responsibilities required by statute. 725 ILCS 5/113-8 also requires the judge to announce that a guilty plea may have immigration consequences to non-citizens.

However, collateral consequences may exist which the judge is not required to warn defendants about. These can include the likelihood of losing employment opportunities or certain government benefits, and in the case of immigration consequences, the judge does not analyze each case in detail to let you know how the conviction might affect your immigration status, benefits, or other consequences with public agencies, licensing bodies, or prospective employers.

Hiring an attorney to help understand these consequences before taking a guilty plea can really pay off, as the time and money spent in presenting a solid defense with a good attorney can often prevent these hidden costs from limiting opportunities for many years to come.

DISCLAIMER: Please do not prepare your own documents / filings after reading this blog, without consulting an attorney first about your specific situation. I make no representations or guarantees here as to the applicability of any claim in your specific situation. This blog is ADVERTISING MATERIAL only, and should not be relied upon as legal advice specific to your case, especially if you are not an Illinois resident. No attorney-client agreement will exist between myself and any readers of this blog unless it is signed in writing.

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