Many people, especially those who have never been in any kind of trouble with the law before, think that their case will just go away the first time they appear in court. But that’s not how it works. Cases generally resolve only when there is a plea of “guilty” or a trial.
1. The judge is not going to talk to you about the facts of your case.
People commonly assume that their case is all just a big misunderstanding that will be cleared up when they talk to the judge. This is wrong.
You may want to write a letter to the judge, or speak with the judge about the facts of your case, but this not allowed. It is strictly forbidden to communicate with the judge about a pending case off the record, outside of court. The judge will disregard any letters sent to him or statements made by you professing your innocence. Blurting out facts about yourself or the charges against you in court could actually damage your case. Let your criminal defense lawyer be your voice in communicating with the judge.
2. A plea agreement is not a “get out of jail free” card.
Most criminal cases are resolved through plea deals, and it is likely that, if arrested, you will be offered a plea deal. Sometimes, your best interests will be served by taking the deal. Be sure, though, that you understand what you are agreeing to and what will be required of you. A plea deal is not a get out of jail free card. Often, plea deals come with stiff financial requirements. In addition, you may be subjected to a curfew, travel restrictions, and random searches of your person, car or home. Drug testing can also be part of a plea deal. If you think you will have trouble complying with the terms of the agreement, you may be better off rejecting a deal and going to trial. Probation violations are easier to prosecute than the crime that was originally charged and the punishment can be harsh.
In California, you may also be required to return to court. Failure to return to court after court can have serious consequences. Many defendants have missed their court date only to find out that they have pleaded guilty but the court no longer has to honor any agreement as to sentencing.
Your criminal defense attorney will help you understand what the terms of the plea agreement are, and advise you as to whether you should accept a plea deal or go to trial.
4. A criminal trial is not a quest for truth.
Contrary to what you may believe, the jurors in a criminal trial are not obligated to collectively piece the evidence together until they arrive at “the truth.” It is not their job to “solve” the case. Rather, the jurors’ only job is to determine whether the government, as represented by its prosecuting attorney, has met its burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To put it another way: You do not have to prove your innocence; the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Practically speaking, “beyond a reasonable doubt” means that, after hearing all the evidence, the jurors must be truly and steadfastly convinced that you are guilty of the crime charged. This is a heavy burden.