Why would anyone who has evidence stacked against them consider pleading not guilty in court?
You may be asking yourself that question while reading the latest news in the proceedings against Dr. Larry Nassar. Nassar was a doctor at MSU’s sport-medicine clinic from 1997 until last September. He was a long-time volunteer for USA Gymnastics (he was the team doctor for the U.S. gymnastics teams 4 out of the last 6 Olympic Games). He was fired and ordered to be held without bond in December following federal charges of possession of child pornography.
Nassar had also been previously charged with sexually abusing a young girl at his home. In January, four more of his alleged victims joined a lawsuit against him, adding to the 18 original complainants who have alleged he’d sexually assaulted them under the guise of administering sports medicine. The lawsuit also accuses MSU, USA Gymnastics and Twistars – a high-profile Lansing Gymnastics training facility – of allowing the abuse to continue.
Many aspects of this situation seem similar to the Jerry Sandusky trial from a few years ago. The former Penn State assistant football coach was found guilty of the sexual abuse of 10 boys and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Alleged cover-up of Sandusky’s crimes by the football program caused Penn State to be stripped of its victories from 1998-2011, a $60 million fine and multiple other sanctions which, on top of the nature of the alleged crimes, made the trial a famous one. Sandusky, in his testimony at his appeal trial this summer, has continued to deny his guilt.
Reasons to Pleading Not Guilty
The first court appearance anyone who has been arrested will face is an arraignment, or initial appearance. Most states have laws against holding suspects indefinitely, or for unusually long periods of time, without being allowed to go before a judge.
At this initial court proceeding, a defendant will be asked to enter an official plea. Here is where we want to point out that, although media coverage often puts a spin on high-profile cases and the public assumes a defendant’s guilt before the trial, the judicial system still tries to uphold the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
It may seem to the outside observer that someone like Nassar is trying to get away with something by pleading not guilty. However, he is merely using the full allowance, so to speak, of the law in his favor.
There are a number of reasons you can, and should plead not guilty even if you know you will be found guilty or end up doing prison time:
- It’s simpler to change your plea.
It is simpler to change your pleas in the event of a plea bargain being offered to you by the prosecution – from “not guilty” to “guilty” than the other way around. For this reason, it makes the most sense to enter an initial “not guilty” plea at your arraignment.
- You might not have a lawyer yet when you are arraigned.
This is probably not the case for either Nassar or Sandusky, but if you find yourself in arraignment without any legal representation, entering a plea of not guilty is the smartest thing to do.
Many defendants don’t immediately grasp the consequences a conviction will have on their lives – even if they won’t be facing prison time, many initial charges can carry harsher penalties and it’s in your best interest to plead not guilty.
Even if your case can’t be dismissed or acquitted, good legal representation can result in a plea deal that will lessen the consequences you may have faced if you’d pled guilty at first.
- If you don’t know the strength of the case against you, it makes sense to plead not guilty.
Again, a big case with a lot of media coverage will put forth a bias – most often in favor of the defendant’s guilt – completely separate from what’s called the “discovery” or some of the evidence the prosecution has against you, which they are legally bound to share with you or your lawyer.
- You may be offered a plea bargain later in the proceedings.
If you are offered a plea bargain later in the proceedings, you will be required to change your plea to guilty or no contest.
You may not be in a huge public trial like that of the two men mentioned above, or facing charges similar charges, but it’s a good idea to follow the advice of an experienced legal representation and plead not guilty. At The David J. Kramer Law Firm, PLLC, we will work for you to provide the best possible outcome of your case.
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