Criminal Cases: Three Key Questions

Anyone facing criminal charges has a very serious problem on their hands.  A conviction of a criminal offense can result in incarceration, a large fine, or both, depending on the nature of the crime. Anyone charged with a crime needs to know as much about how the justice system operates as possible. Here are three critical questions about our country's criminal justice procedures.

Are "Guilty" and "Not Guilty" the Only Pleas?

Criminal defendants, in some circumstances, may have other possible pleas besides the standard pleas of guilty and not guilty. The main alternative is called "nolo contendere" or no contest.  A no-contest plea is similar to a guilty plea and results in a criminal conviction. The difference is that, with some exceptions, a plea of no contest cannot be used against a defendant in a related civil lawsuit.


A second possible alternative plea is the conditional plea. This option is basically a guilty plea or no-contest plea with an added stipulation. What makes the plea conditional is that the defendant reserves the right to withdraw their guilty or no contest plea in the event that an appeals court overturns their conviction based on a mistake by the trial judge. A key point is that not every state will allow defendants to make conditional pleas. Also, in some states, defendants can reserve their right to change their plea after a successful appeal based on the judge's actions without entering a conditional plea.


In states, a defendant can make an "Alford plea." This type of plea, which has been ruled constitutional by the United State Supreme Court, allows a defendant to plead guilty while still maintaining that they did not commit the crime. Not every state, however, allows Alford pleas.

Do Most Criminal Cases Go to Trial?

Most criminal cases do not proceed to a trial. The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved with a plea bargain, according to the New York Times. A plea bargain allows the defendant to receive a lesser sentence or have their charges reduced in exchange for a guilty verdict. Prosecutors like plea bargains because they eliminate the time and effort of proceeding to a trial and also because they avoid the risk of the defendant being acquitted. 

What is the Exclusionary Rule?

The exclusionary rule prohibits evidence that has been improperly obtained from being admissible in a criminal trial. This rule often applies to searches that have not been done in accordance with the law. For example, if a law enforcement officer does not have probable cause to search someone as they walk down the street, any evidence of a crime that results from that search might be deemed inadmissible due to the exclusionary rule.

Reach out to a local criminal defense lawyer for more info.