The rights that you give up when pleading guilty in Colorado are usually written out in a plea form called a Rule 11. The paperwork lists these rights as well as details about the charge or charges to which you are pleading guilty, like the elements of the charge and the maximum penalties that can be imposed by the judge.
Before deciding to plead guilty, it is important to understand precisely what you are giving up. This includes:
- The right to a jury trial
- The right to confront your accuser
- The right to call witnesses on your behalf
- The right to subpoena witnesses
- The right to remain silent
- The right to an attorney to defend you against the charges in the future
- The right to a speedy trial
- The right to have the government prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
There are a few limited exceptions to this rule, but in most cases, if you plead guilty, you are giving up your right to challenge your conviction or sentence in court. You are admitting guilt, so you can’t say later that it you didn’t do it.
Your right to an attorney
You have a right to an attorney, and you have a right to have an attorney appointed to you if you cannot afford to hire one.
Different places have different policies, but you have a a federal right to a free lawyer if you are facing possible jail time AND you can’t afford to hire a lawyer yourself. Of course, there is a difference between not wanting to pay for a lawyer and actually not being able to. The important thing here is you shouldn’t feel like you have to plead guilty because you can’t afford a lawyer at trial.
You have a right to be represented by an attorney at all critical stages of the case. A guilty plea is definitely one of those times. So is trial.
Where your rights come from
Most of your rights come from the US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment. There are three main rights that every defendant must be advised of and must waive.
- You have a right to a trial by jury.
- You have a right to confront your accusers.
- You have a right not to be forced to testify.
These are your Boykin rights. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969).
If you plead guilty you will not have a trial.
In serious criminal cases you have a right to a jury trial. The U.S. Constitution protects your jury trial right when you are facing a charge where jail of more than six months is possible.
In Colorado, if you are accused of a felony, you have the right to a jury trial with twelve jurors. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you have a right to a jury of six. Colo.R.Crim.P. Rule 23. If you are charged with a petty offense, you may have a right to a jury trial if that right was properly demanded on time.
If you plead guilty, you will give up your right to be found Not Guilty. A jury will not hear your case, and the judge will not consider that you may be innocent.
If you go to trial, you have a right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.
The right to “confront your accusers” means that your attorney (or you, if you are representing yourself) can question the prosecution’s witnesses after they testify against you. Your attorney can show that the witnesses are mistaken or are lying by poking holes in their testimony or by bringing other evidence to the jury’s attention.
If you plead guilty, there will not be a chance in court to show that your accusers have it wrong or are biased against you.
If you go to trial, you cannot be forced to testify against yourself.
Even if you brought your case to trial and did commit the crime, the prosecution does not have the power to make you testify. Think of how unfair that would be: you are accused of a crime and put on the stand swearing to tell the truth. If you don’t tell the truth that you did it – you would be guilty of TWO things: the crime and perjury (lying on the stand).
The only person who can decide whether you testify is you. Not even your lawyer can decide whether you testify or not. Though it would be wise to listen to your lawyer’s advise on this.
If you plead guilty, you are waiving your right to remain silent. You are saying “I am guilty of this charge” by taking a plea.