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When you plead to a criminal case you are giving up certain constitutional rights. You are afforded these constitutional rights regardless of the Massachusetts criminal charges that you are facing. Most criminal cases in Massachusetts are resolved short of trial. It is important that you understand that constitutional rights that you are giving up when you plead to a case.
There may be many reasons why you would want to plead to a case and avoid trial. It all depends on your case and that is a decision that you should make with your lawyer. Whatever your decision is to your case, it is important that you know your constitutional rights. Here are 10 constitutional rights that you are waiving when you are pleading guilty.
- Right to remain silent: In every criminal case you have a right to remain silent. The prosecutor, also known as the Commonwealth in Massachusetts cannot force you to testify in your own case. The Commonwealth also can point to your silence as any indication of guilt. If you plead to a case, you are giving up your right to remain silent because you are admitting to the charges.
- Right to force Commonwealth to prove its case: In any criminal case, the Commonwealth has the burden of proof. The Commonwealth must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. During a Massachusetts trial, the judge will instruct the jury of the Commonwealth’s burden. When you plead to a case you are giving up your right to force the Commonwealth to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Right to confront witnesses: In Massachusetts criminal trials, you have a right to confront your accusers. The accuser must take the stand and you have a right to look that accuser in the eye. There are limited exceptions to this rule for child witnesses. If you plead to a MA case, you are giving up your right to a trial. You have a right to confront witnesses only at trial and if you plead then there is no trial. You do not have a right to confront witnesses at a pre-trial or compliance hearing.
- Right to cross examine witness: In every criminal case, you have a right to cross examine the Commonwealth’s witnesses. This is usually done by your attorney, but if you represent yourself you can cross examine witnesses yourself.
- Right to bring evidence in own defense: During the criminal trial you are allowed to bring evidence in your own defense. The evidence that you bring must be relevant to the case.
- Right to a trial by jury: It is your constitutional right to have a trial by a jury if you are charged with a crime in Massachusetts. You have a right to select that jury with the help of your lawyer.
- Right to a unanimous verdict: In your criminal case, if you choose to have a jury trial, the jury’s verdict must be unanimous. In Massachusetts, all criminal jury decisions must be unanimous, which means all jurors must vote guilty or not guilty in order to have a valid verdict.
- Right to testify: In every Massachusetts criminal case, you have a right to testify at your own trial. It is your constitutional right as the Commonwealth cannot force you to testify. However, if you want to testify you can do so.
- Right to be presumed innocent: In Massachusetts, you have the constitutional right to be presumed innocent unless and until the Commonwealth proves that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Right to compel witnesses to testify: You have a right in Massachusetts to force witnesses to come testify on your behalf.
Here are just a few constitutional rights that you should be aware of when you plead to a case. When you plead to a criminal case in Massachusetts, you are waiving all these constitutional rights. That does not mean that you should not plead to your case. The decision to plead to a criminal case should be made by you with the help of your lawyer. However, whatever your decision is, you should be aware of the constitutional rights that you are waiving when you plead to a Massachusetts crime.