Under the U.S. Justice System, all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. On a plea of not guilty, a formal trial is held. As in all criminal trials, the State is required to prove the guilt of the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt” before a defendant can be found guilty by a Judge or jury.
Your decision concerning which plea to enter is important. You should carefully consider each plea before deciding. If you plead “Guilty” or “No Contest” in open court, you should be prepared to pay the fine and court costs immediately. You may contact the Court Clerk’s office regarding how to make the payment.
Plea of Guilty – By a plea of guilty you admit that the act is prohibited by law, that you committed the act charged, and that you have no defense or excuse for your act. Before entering a plea of guilty, however, you should understand the following:
- The State has the burden of proving that you violated the law – you do not have to prove you did not violate the law
- You have the right to hear the State’s evidence and to require the State to prove you violated the law; and
- A plea of guilty may be used against you later in a civil suit filed against you.
Pleas of Nolo Contendere or “No Contest” – A plea of No Contest means that you do not contest the State’s charge against you. The Court has the authority and will likely find you guilty unless you are eligible and successfully complete a driving safety course and/or court ordered probation (deferred disposition). Also, a plea of No Contest cannot be used against you in a subsequent civil suit.
Plea of Not Guilty – A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt or that you have a defense in your case, and the State must prove what it has charged against you “beyond a reasonable doubt”. If you plead not guilty, you have the right to a trial either by a Judge (known as a “bench” trial) or by a jury. You must also decide whether to hire a lawyer. You have the right to have a lawyer represent you in Court. However, you must pay for your own lawyer because the Court is not required to provide one for you, even if you are indigent. You also have the right to represent yourself. However, if you represent yourself, you must do so without any assistance from the Court.