How do Pleas work?

What happens if I plead guilty?
If you plead “guilty” or “no contest,” the judge will note your plea and tell you what your sentence is (usually only a fine.  If you are facing a jail sentence, the judge will not accept your guilty or no contest plea, but will enter a not guilty plea on your behalf).  You will go to the appropriate courtroom employee to pay or arrange to pay the fine (you can make a payment plan).  You will not have to return to court, but you will have a criminal conviction that will stay on your record forever in most cases. 

What happens if I plead not guilty?
If you plead not guilty, the judge will set another court date for you.  If you are in Tucson City Court (where you will go if you are cited by Tucson Police Department officers), the judge will set a date for a pre-trial conference.  If you are in Pima County Justice Court (where you will go if you are cited by UAPD, Pima County Sheriff’s Dept. or just about any other law enforcement agency in Pima County), the judge will set a trial date (unless you are charged with DUI or are facing the possibility of jail time, in which case he/she will set a case management conference).

If I am guilty, don’t I have to plead guilty?
Pleading not guilty, even if you committed the crime with which you are charged, is perfectly ok and your right under the constitution. It is also a smart thing to do.  It is not the same as lying and will not be held against you by the court if you change your plea to guilty later or lose at trial.  Pleading “not guilty” is a way to preserve your options — including your opportunity to enter into a plea bargain with the prosecutor and your opportunity to go to trial and make the prosecutor prove the case against you.

How can a plea bargain help me?
Let’s assume you are charged with two crimes:  minor in possession of alcohol and using a false ID to gain entrance to a licensed establishment (a bar).  At your pre-trial conference, the prosecutor may offer you a plea bargain:  if you plead guilty to the minor in possession charge and pay a fine, the charge of using a false ID will be dismissed.  Suddenly, instead of two criminal convictions on your record, you have the opportunity to have only one.  If you simply plead guilty at your arraignment, you will not have this opportunity. An attorney is also often able to negotiate a plea on your behalf.

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