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Plea hearings can play an important role in your criminal case

When you find out that you are being charged with a crime, you have to make some decisions fairly quickly. In many cases, you will have to choose how you are going to plead in the case. This is very important because it determines what happens next.

In some cases, your plea hearing might be run in tandem with another hearing. You might be asked to enter your plea very early in the criminal case. Typically, the court where your case is filed can have an impact on this.

Three options

When you plead, there are three options to consider. The first is to plead not guilty. This means that your case will move forward toward the jury trial that might conclude your case.

The second option is to plead guilty, which should only be done in limited cases in which the defendant acknowledges that he or she committed the crime, understands the possible penalties and is willing to accept them without any delay.

The third is pleading no contest (or in Latin nolo contendere) which means that you aren't admitting guilt but that you do agree that the evidence will likely result in a conviction.

Plea deals

It is possible that you will plead not guilty at the initial plea hearing only to change that plea later. In some cases, the prosecution can work with your attorney to determine if a deal can be reached. In these cases, you must enter a specific plea in exchange for the prosecution seeking a certain sentence. The court must accept the deal in order for it to go into effect. There is a chance that the court will issue a different sentence. One thing to remember about plea deals is that you give up your right to appeal the sentence if you reach one, so make sure you fully understand what you are agreeing to.

Your free will

When you enter a plea in a criminal case, you have to do so on your own free will. Your attorney can enter a plea for you in some cases. If you are entering a plea as part of a plea deal, you must be the one to do this. The court will ask you some questions to ensure you understand it. Making sure you know your options and how they might affect your future is imperative at every step in a criminal case.

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