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What are your options when you’re asked to enter a plea?

After an arrest, defendants are typically given arraignment, which is their first appearance in court. At that point, the judge will go over the existing charges and ask you to enter a plea.

What are your options? Although you’ve likely discussed the situation with your defense by this point, the ultimate decision lies on your shoulders, so it’s important to understand all the possibilities.

Not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty and nolo contendere

Here in Colorado, you basically have four options when you enter a plea to your charges:

  • Not guilty: This means that you are asserting your innocence and waiving none of your Constitutional rights, including the right to a trial by jury and the presumption of innocence until the prosecution is able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. (If you refuse to enter a plea at all, the court will enter a “not guilty” plea for you.)
  • Not guilty by reason of insanity: This means that you admit to the charges but believe that your mental disease or defects at the time prevented you from understanding what you were doing or that it was wrong. In essence, it has the same effect as a not guilty plea, although it does inform your approach to your defense.
  • Guilty: This means that you admitting to the charges and waiving your Constitutional right to the presumption of innocence and a trial. In most cases, this is only done after a plea agreement regarding the charges or sentencing has been worked out between the prosecution and defense.
  • Nolo contendere: Also called an “Alford Plea,” this allows a defendant to, in effect, maintain their innocence while admitting that the state likely has enough evidence to convict them at trial. While fairly rare, it is sometimes used in situations where the defendant doesn’t want a guilty plea to haunt them later in civil court.

In this state, something known as Rule 11 requires the Court (in the form of the judge overseeing the case) to make sure that a defendant who is pleading guilty or nolo contendere fully understands the charges against them, the potential consequences and how that affects their rights before accepting the plea.

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Lakewood, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. What you can read online is no substitute for experienced legal guidance.