You’ve discussed it with your attorney, weighed your options, and together you’ve decided that pleading guilty to your charges is the best way to go. Now your lawyer is handing you some forms to fill out. The most important of these is your Explanation of Rights and Plea of Guilty Form. When you accept a plea deal in exchange for admitting your guilt, you are waiving certain constitutional rights. The Explanation of Rights form does what its title suggests, though not clearly.
I’m going to go over an Explanation of Rights and Guilty Plea form with you as I would if you were my client. I’ve highlighted the text different colors so you’ll understand what you’re looking at. We’ll pretend you’re pleading to Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance (UPCS) – a class C felony, and you have a prior felony possession conviction. Let’s get started.
This is the first step of the form. It details what you’ve been charged with, what level felony it is, and if you’ll be pleading to this charge or some lesser charge.
This sets out the classes of felonies in Alabama, and how they’re punished. As you can see your charge of a class C felony carries with it a minimum of one year and one day in prison, and a fine not to exceed $15,000.
This section of the form explains how prior felony convictions affect your current sentence. In our case your prior conviction of UPCS will cause the minimum punishment for your new charge to increase to 2-20 years in prison, and a fine not to exceed $30,000. So, the minimum you could plead to for your second class C felony is two years which may or may not include a fine or probation.
These are known as punishment enhancements. They vary case to case. For example, here in Etowah County there is about a 5 mile area in the whole county that is not within three miles of a school or housing project. So chances are if you sell drugs in Etowah County you can count on these two enhancements to your sentence. And they are stiff! Five years each. After application of these your minimum sentence is 12 years. 2 years + 5 + 5 for each enhancement = 12 years. Other common enhancements are fines for drugs and even one that requires you complete drug therapy as part of your sentence.
Here’s the biggie. This is basically a reprint of your 6th Amendment rights as outlined in the Constitution. You can read it yourself, but you’ve got the right to a fair and speedy trial, to see, hear, and confront any witness the state brings against you, the right to a trial by jury, and the right to present your own evidence in your favor among other things. You need to fully understand what you’re entitled to under the Constitution. You need a competent lawyer who knows this form by heart to male sure you understand it as well.
The second half of this text is the waiver of your rights, and it’s in all caps for a reason. It explains that if you plead guilty that you are waiving all the above rights. That you won’t get a jury trial of any kind, you won’t get to hear the state’s evidence against you, and you won’t be allowed to appeal your case to a higher court.
This is where the rubber meets the road. The first section is the attorney certification that states he has explained this form to you and he believes you are informed and understand what you’re signing. Below that is the section where you certify that your attorney has explained everything to you, and you are fully aware of what you’re about to do.
If you take nothing else from this post, please remember to make sure that you’re comfortable with your attorney and his explanation of this form to you. You will never sign a more important document. You are literally signing your life away. I’m not trying to tell you that pleading guilty is a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the smartest move you can make in your case. I’m just trying to drive my point home that this is really important.
Now that you’ve seen this document I hope you are now informed as to your rights, and can carry on a more productive conversation with your attorney if and when pleading guilty becomes an option.