Do I still need an attorney if I’m going to plead guilty?

Yes! For a number of reasons:

1. Keeping your Record Clean Through A Diversion

If you meet certain requirements (no prior Class A misdemeanors, no prior diversion or expungement of records), you are eligible for a diversion. Diversions come in two forms: 1) Pre-trial diversion, and 2) Judicial diversion.

With a pre-trial diversion, you never have to enter a plea in the courtroom. Instead, the prosecutor might allow you to hold off your case for a length of time to determine whether you can keep from getting additional charges. At the conclusion of that time, your original charge may be dismissed at the discretion of the prosecutor.

With a judicial diversion, you must actually enter a diversion plea to your charge. If the judge grants your diversion, your case is held for a probationary period to determine whether you can keep from getting additional charges. The biggest difference between the two diversions is that if you receive new charges under the judicial diversion, then you have already pled guilty to the original charge! You will no longer get the original charge expunged, and the new charge is a basis for probation violation. (Note: Even if you pled guilty to the original charge without the diversion, you would have still be on probation anyway, so there is no additional risk due to entering a diversion plea.)

Why enter a diversion plea?

Because 1) you will not have to serve any jail time, and 2) if you can complete your length of probation, you can return to court and have all records of the original charge and plea completely erased! (The paperwork is not automatically expunged and requires a fee and an additional court appearance.)

Diversions are an excellent option for first-time trouble makers who have learned their lesson and want to keep their record clean, or people who wish to enter a “best interest” plea to avoid the embarrassment or expense of undergoing a trial, because they know that it will ultimately be erased anyway.

Your attorney must fax an application of eligibility to the State to ensure your eligibility. If you plead guilty to a Class A misdemeanor or Class C, E, or E Felony without entering the diversion paperwork at the same time, then you just got cheated out of a diversion, and you can never have that offense come off of your record. This is why you need an attorney! Don’t expect the prosecutor to tell you about diversions!

(Source: Tenn. Code Ann. Section 40-35-313).

2. Knowing What Chance Your Case Would Actually Have

You might be thinking, “Well, I know that the police have a lot of evidence against me, so what’s the point?” Imagine that you received a DUI charge. Do you know whether the police made a lawful stop of your car? It’s possible that the evidence that would be used against you was obtained illegally and would be excluded. If there is a valid basis for suppression, your attorney can hold a suppression motion, and the State must demonstrate a valid basis for their actions.

If you don’t hire an attorney, then you will never know if you had a chance to win your case. Even if you do hire an attorney, and it turns out that your best option is to enter a plea, at least you’ll know whether you had a chance. Also, your attorney will help you get the best possible plea deal. (See below).

3. Experienced Negotiations

a) Getting the Best Deal Possible: Imagine that a prosecutor tells you that you can plead guilty to a charge and receive ten days in jail – is that a good deal or not? The prosecutor then tells you that this deal is only good for the next few seconds. Don’t get pushed around by these tactics – tell them that you need a new court date to hire an attorney.

b) Getting the Paperwork Right: What if you do plead guilty and go to jail, and on the day you expected to be released, the jailer tells you that you have three more days to go. You realize that the prosecutor must have forgotten to give you jail credit for the three days you spent in jail before you bonded out. Since you didn’t have your lawyer double-check (or even complete) the paperwork and ensure that it was correct, you have no way to get it straightened out.

c) Knowing the Additional Consequences of Your Plea: Imagine that you pled to a domestic assault because the prosecutor offered you a time-served plea. Later, when you try to obtain a handgun permit, you are told that you are no longer eligible to have a handgun. If you had hired an attorney, you would have known the consequences of entering that plea beforehand, but now it’s too late. The prosecutor may or may not tell you about these consequences, but really, it’s not his or her job to do so. The State isn’t there to protect your rights as a defendant – your attorney is. Is that a right that you want to waive?

We want your business, but in the rare situations when you don’t need a lawyer, we would rather tell you so that we can spend that time helping someone who needs it. However, those situations are definitely the exception, and not the rule!

Call today for a free consultation and see how we can take care of you and your legal needs!