Any defendant in the United States is innocent until he or she is proven guilty. Guilt is determined if the defendant admits to committing a crime or when a judge or jury determines guilt.
Let’s consider a recent case. A 23-year-old Elizabeth man entered a guilty plea to the shooting of a 17-year-old teenager in 2012. He pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter. In exchange for his guilty plea, he may face a maximum 25-year prison sentence. Why did he enter a guilty plea? After all, he could enter a not guilty plea because the prosecutor is required to prove the case against him.
He probably pleaded to a lesser charge to avoid receiving maximum punishments associated with first-degree murder. According to N.J.S. 2C: 11-3, the co-defendant faces 30 years to life in prison for one count of felony murder plus 10 to 20 years in prison for one count of first-degree robbery. A second-degree robbery conviction carries a five to 10-year prison sentence.
However, since a lawyer is an officer of the New Jersey court, he or she can’t suborn perjury. If the client tells the lawyer, “I’m guilty,” then the lawyer can’t ethically claim that the client is innocent. The attorney can’t allow the client to tell the court a false story. For that reason, admitting guilt to a lawyer might limit what the attorney can do as part of a defense strategy, but it won’t affect the defendant’s option to plead not guilty.
Each client’s case is unique. The goal of an experienced criminal defense attorney is to place the client in the best possible light before the judge and/or jury. He or she wants to use all the facts to argue an effective defense.
If you or someone you love is facing a criminal charge in New Jersey, contact The Law Offices of John W. Tumelty, New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Criminal Trial Attorney for an initial case evaluation.