In Florida, a defendant charged with a crime in criminal court may respond to those charges in a variety of ways. Here’s what you need to know about pleading in a criminal law case if you should ever find yourself facing criminal charges in Florida.
In Florida, there are four ways to respond to criminal charges:
no contest, or
There are a variety of reasons to respond to criminal charges in any of those four ways, but Florida law restricts a criminal defendant to responding in only one of those ways.
In Florida courts, “not guilty” is one of the accepted responses to a criminal charge. Although many people use “not guilty” and “innocent” interchangeably, there are significant differences between those two terms.
Pleading “not guilty” means that the defendant does not admitting to guilt for the crime he is being charged with. It does not necessarily mean that the defendant is claiming to be innocent of the crime. However it can mean one of the following:
The defendant needs more time to talk to his attorney,
the defendant hasn’t decided how to go forward in facing the charges,
the defendant has not reached a plea deal with the prosecution,
the defendant wishes to require the prosecution to divulge its evidence in the case via the discovery process.
As defendants are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty, pleading “not guilty” will require the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime in question.
Once made, a plea of not guilty may be changed at a later date. If, after further court appearances are scheduled and the prosecution has revealed its evidence against the defendant, the defendant judges that his or her odds of acquittal are slim, he or she may then accept a plea agreement from the prosecution and change his or her plea at that point.
Florida courts interpret a guilty plea to mean that the defendant admits responsibility for the crimes with which he or she is charged. Procedurally, this means that the trial shifts into the penalty phase. It also means that the defendant is waiving several important rights, such as
The right to have the state prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt,
The right to testify on his or her own behalf,
The right against incriminating one’s self,
The right to a jury trial,
The right to confront witnesses against them,
The right to be represented by an attorney at trial,
The right to present evidence and compel witnesses to testify to their knowledge of the matter, and
Most rights related to the appellate process.
Once given, a guilty plea cannot typically be withdrawn.
Known officially as “nolo contendere,” pleading no contest is not viewed by Florida courts as an admission of guilt, but it is also not an acceptance of guilt. Procedurally, a no contest plea is identical to a guilty plea, and the trial then proceeds to the penalty phase.
Florida courts interpret not making a plea to a criminal charge as a plea of not guilty and will proceed accordingly.