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Pros and Cons of Pleading Guilty vs. Not Guilty


May 26, 2023

If an individual is being charged with a crime in Arizona, there are two primary options available to them: They can plead guilty or not guilty. If they choose the latter, they will often have to go to trial to make a case for their innocence in front of a judge. If a defendant is found guilty after a trial, it can have major consequences on their professional and personal life. In fact, it’s not uncommon for innocent defendants to plead guilty to avoid a conviction with a plea bargain. While there are pros and cons to each option, only the defendant can make the final decision. However, they don’t have to do it alone: Tucson defense attorney Janet Altschuler is here to explain the pros and cons of pleading guilty vs. pleading not guilty in a criminal case. 

Pros of Pleading Guilty in a Criminal Case in Arizona

Faster Results

It may sound contradictory, but there can be advantages to pleading guilty. In many cases, a guilty plea means a faster turnaround time. This is because not guilty pleas will have to go to trial, and the wait time can be extensive—defendants can wait a year or more to go to trial. Criminal defendants looking to get results fast may reduce the length of the process by pleading guilty. 


In addition, hiring a lawyer for a not guilty plea can be very expensive. Attorneys often charge by the hour, and going to trial means a more time-intensive process. If a criminal defendant thinks they might be found guilty even if they enter a not guilty plea, they might find it advantageous to enter a guilty plea. However, it is still advisable to consult an attorney before making your final decision.  

Lighter Sentences

Plea bargaining is a process that involves the defense and the prosecution negotiating the defendant’s sentence. If the defendant pleads guilty, they can potentially receive a lighter sentence. One of the ways this can occur is if the prosecution agrees to reduce the defendant’s charges, leading to a less serious punishment. 

Avoids Going to Trial

Trials are time-consuming and stressful. When a defendant enters a trial, they must face a judge and often a jury. They’ll have to testify in front of the court, as well as face the prosecution’s argument. Plus, the outcome of a trial can be extremely unpredictable and gives the prosecution more time to uncover potentially incriminating evidence. A case that seems rock solid could easily crumble in the face of new witnesses or recently uncovered video footage. In addition, by pleading guilty, defendants can avoid any media attention that might accompany a public trial. This is beneficial if the defendant has family members or loved ones that they do not want in the public eye. 

Cons of Pleading Guilty in a Criminal Case in Arizona

Innocent People Serving Sentences

While it has its advantages, pleading guilty is not always the best course of action. Innocent people may plead guilty in an attempt to speed up their trial or get a lighter sentence, but they could wind up serving jail time or paying fines for crimes they did not commit. Prison sentences keep people away from their loved ones and lead to loss of employment. Meanwhile, fines are often quite hefty and can leave the defendant in considerable debt. 

Criminal Records

In addition to serving jail time or paying fines, a defendant that pleads guilty and is convicted will have their conviction on their criminal record in perpetuity. Criminal records can make it harder to get jobs, obtain loans, and apply for mortgages, especially if the crime is considered a felony. 

The Judge’s Power

While attorneys can negotiate a sentence for a plea bargain, the final decision rests with the judge. If the presiding judge does not agree with the proposed sentence, they have every right to reject it in favor of something else. Often, this means longer stints in prison or higher fees. 

Pros of Pleading Not Guilty in a Criminal Case in Arizona

Build a Better Defense

If a defendant chooses to plead not guilty in a criminal case, they will have to go to trial. While the trial process isn’t easy, it means that the defendant and their legal team will have more time to build up their defense and map out the most convincing arguments. Your criminal defense lawyer can work to obtain evidence and gather witness testimony that will support their client’s plea of innocence. 

No Criminal Records

If the defendant wishes to avoid a criminal record, they must go to trial and receive an acquittal. This is the only way for an innocent person to get a final verdict of ‘not guilty’ and expunge the charge from their record. If the defendant wants to avoid a trial, they will most likely wind up with some kind of criminal record. 

Burden of Proof

When a defendant goes to trial, they have access to certain rights under the Constitution. They are always presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the prosecution must prove to the judge and/or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is also the chance that police misconduct or other external factors could keep evidence from entering the trial and negatively impacting the defense. 

Cons of Pleading Not Guilty in a Criminal Case in Arizona

Jury Makes the Call

When a criminal case goes to trial, a jury is responsible for making the final verdict. It is notoriously hard to predict what decision a jury will make, and the defendant is placing their future in the hands of the jury members. 

Heavier Sentences

When a defendant goes to trial, they could be facing the absolute maximum penalty for the crime that they have been accused of committing. This could mean anything from years or even decades in prison to fines of six figures or more. A criminal trial could exonerate the defendant, but it could also put them in prison for life. 

Build Your Case with Janet Altschuler Today

Janet Altschuler is a criminal defense attorney in Tucson with over 20 years of experience. If you have been accused of a crime and you’re wondering whether to plead guilty or not guilty, she can help you make the best decision for your situation. Contact her today to schedule your free consultation!

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