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Does entering a guilty plea mean someone can avoid jail?

On Behalf of | Apr 13, 2023 | Criminal Law

Many people who maintain that they are innocent of criminal wrongdoing ultimately plead guilty to criminal charges. They believe they didn’t do anything illegal, but they also convince themselves that they would never be able to win a criminal trial.

Some people fall victim to the common prosecutorial ploy that involves filing multiple, very serious charges over a seemingly minor offense. They worry so much about the worst-case outcome that they choose to throw themselves on the mercy of the courts. Other times, they truly believe that their best chance of a favorable outcome will result from cooperating with prosecutors.

Especially if someone gets their information about criminal court proceedings from popular media, they might fall victim to the misconception that someone who pleads guilty can avoid jail time or major sentences handed down by the Hawaii criminal courts. However, many defendants find out the hard way that that is not always actually the case.

The sentence is largely at the judge’s discretion

The judge overseeing a criminal case in Hawaii has a lot of authority. Their interpretation of the situation directly influences everything from what kind of defense strategy might work for a defendant to whether the prosecutor can present certain evidence during the trial. Additionally, after a guilty plea or a guilty verdict is handed down by a jury, a judge has the authority to sentence someone to jail time, community service, probation and numerous other consequences.

State law actually gives judges the authority to fully waive incarceration in some cases, although there is no rule that requires that they do so just because someone entered a guilty plea. The judge’s opinion of the situation will ultimately determine the sentence that they decide would be appropriate.

Unless someone has an attorney assist them in negotiating a written plea deal with the prosecutor that specifically addresses the sentence they might face, there is never any guarantee that a guilty plea will help keep someone from serving time in jail.

There are many ways to fight criminal charges

Pleading guilty typically isn’t the best response to pending charges. Whether someone faces drunk driving charges or allegations of committing a drug offense, they may have numerous options for defending themselves. The nature of the charges against an individual and the evidence gathered by the state will both influence the best defense strategy given the circumstances.

Understanding the risks involved with pleading guilty to a criminal charge can help those who are considering mounting a criminal defense make informed decisions about their situation with the assistance of an experienced legal professional.