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Does A Judge Have To Advise You Of Your Right To Counsel Before You Enter A Plea?


In any criminal proceeding, you have the right to consult with an attorney at every stage of your case. This right is especially crucial when it comes to an arraignment. An arraignment is usually the first time that a person appears in court to answer the charge against them. The judge will ask the defendant if they wish to plead “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.”

Second District Tosses No-Contest Plea in “Resisting an Officer” Case

You can, of course, waive your right to counsel at any time. This is never a good idea. Conversely, neither the court nor the prosecution should mislead you into inadvertently waiving your rights. Even when there was no intent to do so, poor wording on the part of a judge can lead to unfortunate outcomes.

A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeals, Robbles v. State, provides a useful example. In this case, a police officer initiated a routine traffic stop. The officer initially questioned the driver. He also asked the passenger in the vehicle–the defendant–for her identification. She refused. This eventually led to the defendant’s arrest on a misdemeanor charge of “resisting an officer without violence.”

The defendant’s arraignment took place during a “virtual” mass hearing with multiple other defendants. The judge explained to the group how the arraignment process worked and each defendant’s constitutional rights. With respect to the right to counsel, the judge said that if a defendant entered a plea of “not guilty,” the court would then discuss the issue of representation, including whether the defendant could not afford to hire an attorney and required assistance from a public defender.

The defendant did not have an attorney at this point. When her case was called, the prosecution offered a plea bargain. In exchange for a “no contest” plea, the court would sentence the defendant to a fine and court costs with no jail time. The defendant accepted the offer.

Afterwards, she obtained counsel and moved to withdraw her plea. She argued the court violated her right to counsel and that there was an insufficient factual basis to support the plea. The trial court denied the defendant’s request. But on appeal, the Second District agreed that the trial court committed a “manifest injustice” by failing to properly advise the defendant of her right to counsel before entering a plea.

As noted above, the trial judge incorrectly made it sound like the defendant would only be entitled to counsel if she entered a not guilty plea. Now, the Second District noted that in misdemeanor cases where the judge states in writing that a defendant faces no jail time if convicted, Florida law actually does not require the appointment of a public defender. But in this case, the defendant was never explicitly told that. To the contrary, the judge advised that if convicted, the defendant faced up to one year in jail. Given that, the Second District said the defendant was entitled to withdraw her plea and enter a new one–this time properly advised by counsel.

Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today

You should never take the right to counsel lightly when facing any sort of criminal charge. If you need to speak with an experienced Orlando criminal defense lawyer, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.


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