This question comes up a lot. Defendant A comes into my office and says, “I’m guilty. I did it. Do I really need a lawyer? Maybe I should just throw myself on the mercy of the court and get it over with.”
The question then becomes, how does that usually work out? And, the answer is, usually not so well. Unless the case is one that is so minimal, like a traffic ticket, the judge has too much discretion to just plead guilty without thinking about the consequences.
If you have a lawyer, you can be fully advised of all the impacts of your plea of guilty. For example, many crimes now carry immigration consequences that defendants don’t know about and don’t even consider when they plead guilty. A lawyer can often mitigate the effects of the immigration issue for the defendant. The judge will tell you that this conviction may lead to deportation, exclusion from the United States, or denial of naturalization but the judge doesn’t consider that there may be alternatives to the plea of guilty. A lawyer on your side can advise you if pleading guilty is the best and only thing to do under the circumstances.
A lawyer stands between you and the judge and the government, protecting you from the disastrous consequences that come with conviction. A lawyer can often lessen the sentence the judge would offer a defendant standing alone. A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor to lower the charge or change the sentence based on defenses he knows about and you don’t. Your lawyer can advise the prosecutor and the judge about the “why” the crime occurred and not just that it happened.
Most people do crimes because of a lapse in judgment not because they are evil people. For those of us who have made errors in judgment and had tough times in our lives, a lawyer can not only counsel you through difficult legal troubles but advocate and explain your particular situation to those with the power over what happens to you in the legal system.
There is no doubt about it, even if you are guilty, don’t make the mistake of going it alone in the legal system.