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The risk of pleading guilty to Missouri criminal charges

On Behalf of | Feb 19, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Missouri has laws criminalizing many different types of behavior. Accusations ranging from claims of reckless driving to assertions that someone illegally possessed narcotics can lead to an individual’s prosecution. Those facing criminal charges in Missouri have certain rights enshrined both in federal and state laws. The right to defend against those charges is crucial for those wrongly accused of a crime. However, a large percentage of those facing criminal charges in Missouri plead guilty instead of asserting their innocence, regardless.

They may worry that going to trial might draw attention to their recent arrest. If a prosecutor files multiple charges or particularly serious allegations against someone, a defendant may worry that defending against those charges at trial could lead to severe penalties if they get convicted. Many people plead guilty because they view that as the safest option. They may fail to understand the risks of pleading guilty.

A guilty plea does not guarantee a lenient sentence

People often assume that if they cooperate with the criminal justice system by pleading guilty, then a judge may take that under consideration when sentencing them. They may conflate the potential protection extended by a well-negotiated plea bargain with simply pleading guilty. Someone who has a plea bargain in place can potentially avoid specific consequences by pleading guilty and possibly by cooperating with the state as part of a larger investigation.

Although judges can sometimes be more lenient in cases where people acknowledge their mistakes, a guilty plea does not automatically ensure lenient sentencing or eliminate the possibility of incarceration. Unless someone negotiates a thorough plea deal with specific sentencing limitations, a guilty plea does not guarantee any reduction in penalties.

In fact, the defendant is essentially at the mercy of the judge hearing their case. Judges have the authority to hand down any sentence that complies with the sentencing recommendations for a specific criminal offense. Judges sometimes pride themselves on handing down harsh sentences for certain types of offenses or in specific scenarios.

The only way to ensure that a defendant avoids jail time and other potentially severe consequences is to defend against charges successfully at trial or work to have their charges dropped. Understanding the risks of a guilty plea, and seeking legal guidance to build a strong defense, can help someone better respond to pending Missouri criminal charges in ways that are as informed as possible.