Can You Contest The Charges Against You?
Yes. Any time you’re charged with a crime, you can absolutely contest the charges against you. In the United States, you are innocent until proven guilty. This is known as the presumption of innocence. And, in criminal cases, the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, until the government proves you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the law says you’re innocent.
How do you contest the charges against you?
How you contest the charges against you depends a lot on what part of the case you’re in. In most states, you’ll have a preliminary hearing (sometimes called a “preliminary exam,” “probable cause hearing” or other names). This hearing looks a lot like a trial. The prosecution calls witnesses, and the district attorney and your attorney (or you if you represent yourself) ask those witnesses and questions.
Then, both sides make an argument, and the judges make a decision. Usually, the prosecution must present probable cause to prove that a crime was committed and that you are the one who committed it. In general, to meet the probable-cause standard, the prosecution must demonstrate that the crime more than likely happened and that you more than likely committed it.
But you can present a defense at this early stage. For instance, if you have an alibi, you can present this evidence even though you don’t have to call any witnesses or present evidence at all. If you don’t win at the preliminary hearing, you can contest the charges against you later in the case as well. You can file a motion to dismiss, you can present a defense at trial and you can also file an appeal.
Do you have to contest the charges against you?
No. You can always contest the charges against you. Regardless of whether you’re innocent or guilty, you have the right to present a defense. And, even if you don’t have a defense, you still have the right to a trial. This means you can make the prosecution prove its case even if you think the jury will find you guilty. But you also don’t have to.
Everyday, people across the United States decide not to contest the charges against them. Most of the time, this means pleading guilty or pleading no contest. If you plead guilty or no contest, you basically give up your right to contest the charges against you and go straight to sentencing. Usually, the decision to plead anything other than not guilty is based on a plea deal.
It’s important to understand that by pleading guilty or no contest, you are giving up your right to contest the charges against you. There are limited situations where you can still appeal after you plead guilty or no contest. But these situations are very narrow. Most of the time, you can’t get out of a guilty or no-contest plea after you do it.
You can contest the charges against you in every criminal case. You can do so at the preliminary hearing, with a motion to dismiss or during trial. But you don’t have to. You can also enter a guilty or no-contest plea. Hopefully, your lawyer can help you make the decision that’s best for you.