Let’s be honest: when we take your case, we defend it to win it, but the truth is, most criminal cases— especially serious felonies—end with a guilty plea. Reasons why are covered in another article on our site. Still, at Holland & Usry, we are convinced that the best way to get the best plea deal is defend the case to win it, and so we prepare for trial every time.

But it’s also important that we prepare our client for what might happen instead of a trial. Here’s the basics of a typical guilty plea:

First, it’s serious as a heart attack. You’re about to confess to a crime and be sentenced for it. Free advice: dress like you want to be taken seriously. If you don’t want the judge to seriously consider keeping you out of prison, wear a t-shirt, ball cap, and flip-flops.

A guilty plea is a formal proceeding in open court where you’re under oath before a judge who decides your future. It’s vital to understand how it works and why it works that way. Think of it as a solemn, probing conversation between the judge, the state, your lawyer, and you, so the judge can decide what to do with the next few years of your life.

The Judge Questions You

The judge will ask you a series of questions to find out:

  • Who you are. Your background, including education, marital status, children, employment history, general health, and prior criminal record.
  • Whether you know what you’re doing. The judge will want to make sure you are mentally competent to make this decision and understand its consequences. He needs to be convinced that you’re not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the hearing or even while considering the plea deal with your lawyer. He’ll make sure you understand the terms of the plea agreement, including your original charges, the charges you’re pleading guilty to, and the potential sentences.
  • Whether you understand the constitutional rights you’re giving up. Basically, you will be giving away all of them, including your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. A guilty plea is a confession. You give up your Fourth Amendment right to argue the state got evidence from improper searches. You give up your Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine witnesses against you. You give up your Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial.

The Judge Finds Out What You Did

The judge asks the State to summarize the charges, usually done by reading the incident report. Victims can make an impact statement.

The Judge Hears Your Side, Presented Carefully. Oh, So Very Carefully

This is called “mitigation.” It’s where your lawyer persuades the judge to accept the State’s sentencing recommendation or give as lenient a sentence as possible. It must be done artfully. It is not a defense; we offer no excuses, only explanations.

At Holland & Usry, we work to show how our clients have overcome the root cause of the crime, like completing drug rehab for a drug-related crime or counseling for a violent act. We try to explain the unique circumstances which pushed you toward a criminal act. We remind judges they sentence people, not a hopefully isolated mistake in a life we can show is otherwise well-lived. We work to present your good qualities, as reported by people in your life, especially upstanding members of the community.

The judge almost always wants to hear from you, which should probably be short and sincere. More free advice: the two words that can go the furthest are a heartfelt, “I’m sorry.” Make it clear you mean it.

And that’s why you hire a lawyer—so he can tell you what to say.


Finally, the judge asks if the State has a recommendation. The judge is not bound by the prosecutor’s recommendation, but it often carries weight. Then comes the most awful moment in your case: the silence, punctuated with only the scratching of the judge’s pen as he writes out your sentence on a sentencing sheet.

Don’t Stand Alone, So You Don’t Have to Worry

Hopefully, you’ve had the wisdom to know you can’t go it alone, and you have an experienced lawyer to give you the confidence the judge is writing a sentence of probation or a fine, keeping you out of prison. If you’re charged with a serious crime, you owe it to yourself and everyone you love to have an advocate you trust standing next to you on this monumental day in your life.

This is not a time to go bargain-basement shopping, either. This is your freedom and your life. You deserve a defense lawyer with experience who prepares to win, so you can plead guilty knowing it’s the right thing to do and the best possible outcome for your case.

You can depend on us to employ the devotion and creativity to advise you what to do to improve your chances at avoiding prison, if we all decide together the risk of going to trial is too great. Let us stand up for you. Start a live chat, or call us toll-free at 888.230.1841 so we can start building a defense to get you the best outcome possible.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.