Interviewer: What are some things that would help someone’s case? Do you think counseling or something like that would help someone’s case?
Court Koehler: It can but it’s not going to help you with the underlying charges but it may help in sentencing, if you take responsibility for your actions and you show that you’re getting help and you have documentation for the judge to see that you have taken steps to fix the problem, that’s usually really helpful and really makes a big impression on judges when they are determining what to sentence you. That’s something that I do sometimes with all different sorts of crimes in cases where you have somebody that has done something, they admitted they did it and they want to take responsibility.
Showing that a Defendant is Proactive about Solving their Problems Can be a Mitigating Factor During Sentencing
They have a reason whether it’s some sort of momentary lapse of judgment or whether it’s an ongoing problem with a mid-life crisis like you are talking about or a depression or maybe they have a medical condition. There are all different sorts of crazy reasons that people might do things like that and definitely if you show that you are trying to fix that problem and get help and you take that initiative and you’re proactive about it, it can make a big difference in your sentence. It won’t make any difference, to the underlying criminal charges; they are still going to go through the process of proving that you’re guilty and things like that the same way.
Delay in Talking to an Attorney is a Common Mistake Committed by Theft Offenders
Interviewer: What would you say is the biggest mistake people make upon getting arrested or when they are dealing with the theft charge?
Court Koehler: Talking to anybody other than an attorney is the first one and not talking to an attorney right away is a mistake. Trying to explain away what you’ve done is a bad idea too, like saying, “I was taking it over here to pay for it”, or, “I didn’t realize that it was in my car”, or something like that. It’s really just better to not say anything at all.
It is Inadvisable to Plead Guilty and Expect Mercy from the Court
Interviewer: If someone may come up to you and say, “Look, they caught me red handed, there is proof, I know I am guilty”, should he just throw himself to the mercy of the court?
Court Koehler: No, you should never do that. You may feel like you are guilty of something and you may be guilty of something but you may not be guilty of what you were charged with. Prosecutors have a tendency to pile on charges and they will charge the most severe crime that they can reasonably charge you with under the circumstances. So, they may be overstating the degree of the theft, they may be adding other charges to the theft that shouldn’t be charges or weren’t the things that you did. So that’s one reason that you may actually not be guilty of what they are charging you with even if you are guilty of something.
The Collateral Consequences of a Guilty Plea May Affect a Person More Severely Than Their Crime
The other thing is that there are all sorts of consequences obviously for pleading guilty to something and some of them are not consequences that are apparent from the judge and the courts meaning they are not fines and they are not jail time. There may be other consequences that have to do with other circumstances in your life. For instance, if you’re an immigrant, theft may affect your immigration status. If you want to own a gun, theft isn’t something that will affect that necessarily but other charges will. There are all kinds of collateral consequences and depending on your situation, a lawyer can tell you what those consequences are. They can sometimes work out a deal with the prosecutor to say, “Look, my client, he knows he is guilty, he is accepting responsibility for what he did but we have this problem with these collateral consequences that are going to take place if we plead to this as it’s charged, so can we work something out?” Usually we are able to do that.
Pleading Guilty Absolves the Prosecutor of Proving a Defendant Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Even if you are completely, absolutely 100% guilty, you have the constitutional right for the state to prove its case against you, there’s a presumption of innocence and you are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes even though the prosecutor and the police know that you are guilty they simply are unable to provide the evidence that they need to convict you. That could be because they don’t have the right witness or the witnesses that they have are unwilling to testify or they are not being cooperative or may be evidence that they have is inadmissible in court for one reason or another. If you go in there and you just throw your hands up and you accept the consequences, you are foregoing their responsibility to prove you guilty and it could be a big mistake.