While my practice doesn't focus exclusively on criminal law issues, I do take criminal court appointments and receive questions about this area of law quite frequently from my friends and family. Bad things happen to good people, and my hope is that, no matter what challenge arises, my blog can be a consistent source of quality information for people who are looking for answers. One of my relatives got a DWI, and she was totally thrown for a loop about what to expect, how the criminal justice system works, and specifically what were the consequences of entering into a plea agreement. I felt like this topic was so important that I would share a few thoughts about it on the blog so that it could reach as many people as possible.
1. Plea bargains are incredibly common. Although most people are steeped in the knowledge of criminal trials and the right to a jury, it's estimated that over 90% of criminal cases are resolved through plea agreements. Courts are presented with a high volume of criminal cases to handle, from traffic tickets to serious felonies. Judicial economy requires that a certain percentage of those cases move through the system outside of a trial setting. While no one but you can decide if a plea agreement is the right decision for you to make, it's good to know where the pressure to take the plea is coming from. Most people don't want the hassle or expense of going to trial, so they take the deal most favorable to them to move on with their lives.
2. Deferred adjudication is not the same as probation. This point is crucial and surprisingly comes up in conversations with clients quite frequently. Deferred adjudication is a court mandated agreement where a defendant pleads “guilty” or “No Contest” to criminal charges in exchange for meeting certain requirements laid out by the court within an allotted period of time also ordered by the court. It often includes community supervision, fines, and other restrictions relevant to the crime alleged. Deferred adjudication in Texas is often offered in such a way that if the defendant successfully completes the program, the charges are dropped and the case is dismissed. Violating a deferred adjudication plan can result in a conviction. Probation, on the other hand, is simply the release into the community of a defendant who has been found guilty of a crime, typically under certain conditions, such as paying a fine, doing community service or attending a drug treatment program. Violation of the conditions can result in incarceration.
3. No contest and guilty pleas are final convictions. People ask me the difference between guilty and “no contest” or “no lo contedre” quite often, so here it is: a guilty plea is an admission of guilt that results in a court finding the person guilty of the crime they are alleged to have committed. No contest or no lo contendre is a plea that has the same effect as a guilty plea except it does not include an admission of guilt. It's basically like saying, “I neither confirm nor deny.” Either type of plea will typically result in a finding of guilt by the bench and result in a final conviction.
4. Not all criminal cases have to remain on your record for life. All of this talk about the criminal justice system would be incomplete if I failed to mention the fact that in Texas most crimes that have been dismissed, no billed, or for which a defendant is found not guilty, can be removed from the defendant's criminal record through expunction or non-disclosure. Check out my blog on expunction and non-disclosure here.
If you're looking for common sense legal advice, don't hesitate to call me at (713) 574-8626. Knowledge is power!