In South Carolina, most guilty plea hearings are conducted essentially in the same way. The potential variations most important to our clients involve sentencing options and whether you admit fault at the hearing, Here’s a quick look at those variations:
There are three basic types of sentencing arrangements at guilty pleas:
- Recommendation. This is the typical arrangement, where the Solicitor recommends a sentence. The judge is not bound by it, and can give you the sentence she feels proper. The vast majority of the time, the judge accepts the recommendation.
- Negotiated. This is rare. The judge is bound by the sentence agreed between the State and you. The judge can either accept it or refuse to take the plea. She has no power to sentence you to anything different than the agreement.
- Straight Up. This means there is no recommendation or negotiation. The judge can sentence you however she wants, up to the max, with no input from the State asking to reduce the sentence. This occurs most often in serious felonies like murder or felony DUI, where the State has a strong case and a seriously hurt victim. Pleading straight up without an experienced criminal defense lawyer is like walking into a lion’s den coated in bacon grease.
Your Acceptance of Responsibility
Regardless of the fault you admit, your plea remains subject to the sentencing types above. In the typical guilty plea, you admit guilt. It usually makes the best sense for sentencing purposes: you confess the crime fully and beg the court for full mercy. If you can’t do that, you should probably go to trial.
On some occasions, though, it doesn’t make strategic sense to demand a trial. Perhaps the State makes a good offer, and the potential sentence is so serious if you were to lose at trial that you and your attorney decide the stakes are just too high. When you’re faced with a potential life sentence but get an offer of probation, going to trial may be unwise. In these rare cases, you need a skilled, artful negotiator who can help reach an agreement with the State to keep you from admitting fault but get the benefit of a sentence you just can’t turn down.
If the State agrees, you can avoid admitting responsibility under one of these arrangements, which still result in a conviction and subject you to the same penalties:
- Alford. This type of plea is named after a famous U.S. Supreme Court case, North Carolina v. Alford. You don’t admit you did it, but you do admit evidence exists that could convict you. You give up your right to demand a trial, and you will be sentenced, but you have not confessed to the crime.
- No contest or nolo contendere. As the name suggests, you do not contest the charge. But you don’t admit it either. You give up your right to demand a trial, and you will be sentenced, but you have not confessed to the crime.
If you’ve been charged with a serious crime in Spartanburg, Greenville, Union or Cherokee counties, you need a lawyer to artfully negotiate creative options for the most lenient sentence in the plea most beneficial to you.
Bear in mind it’s usually best to admit fault, but in those rare cases where it’s not and you won’t pay the price with prison, you need a defense lawyer with experience persuading the Solicitor to accept it. Most importantly, you need one with the determination and knowledge to build a strong defense to convince the State it’s best to compromise.
If you’ve been charged with a crime and need help with the potential guilty plea, feel free to start a live chat right here or call us at 864.582.0416 or toll-free at 888.230.1841 to start building your defense.