While it may seem inconsequential at the time, entering a plea of guilty to any criminal offense can and does have negative implications that can remain with the person for the rest of their lives. Once a conviction for a criminal offense is entered it is permanent. It will remain on the person's criminal record forever unless a pardon is granted by the Governor. There is no way to have a conviction expunged in the State of Iowa unless the conviction is for Public Intoxication. For this reason, a decision to plead guilty to any criminal offense should be made only after a careful and thorough evaluation by a competent lawyer.
Believe it or not, there are lawyers practicing in this State that do not take their constitutional duty to provide a thorough and zealous defense to those charged with criminal offenses, seriously. For these lawyers, guilty pleas are a quick and convenient way to dispose of a case and be paid for their "work." The facts do not get investigated, the law does not get researched, and the client's life can be forever marred by a conviction for a crime that should never have been permitted. A recent Iowa Court of Appeals decision highlights why having an attorney who will take his/her constitutional duty seriously is a must.
In State v. Quick, Mr. Quick pleaded guilty to the crime of Criminal Mischief that arose out of an OWI arrest where a scuffle ensued and the arresting officers patrol vehicle was dented. While represented by an attorney, Mr. Quick pleaded guilty to the charge stating that in essence, the dent to the vehicle was caused accidentally and that he did not hit the vehicle on purpose. The problem with this is that the crime of criminal mischief is a specific intent crime which requires a specific intent to cause the damage and cannot be committed "accidentally." There mere fact that Mr. Quick "caused" the dent was insufficient to sustain a conviction. Based on the undisputed facts of the case, Mr. Quick was not guilty of the charge and his lawyer was ineffective for allowing him to plead to the charge. The Court of Appeals found that Mr. Quick's lawyer did not perform his job up to constitutional standards and had he done his job, the charge should have been dismissed. Sometimes fighting a case is not only the preferred course of action, it is the constitutionally required course of action and if a lawyer is not willing to put up a fight on behalf of his/her client, a change in lawyers should always be requested.
While a guilty plea can often be looked at as a convenient way to resolve a case, especially if jail time is avoided, a lawyer still has the obligation to conduct a factual and legal investigation to ensure that the plea is appropriate. There is a time and a place for guilty pleas and for plea bargaining but the constitution and the law requires that the individual must have a factual basis for pleading guilty to the crime. Whether to fight or plead guilty is one of the most important decisions that a criminal defendant makes in a case and it should only be made after careful and thoughtful consultation with an attorney, an attorney that is willing to fight if necessary but is also able to analyze a case and provide accurate advise regarding whether a fight is in a clients best interest. The decision is final and the defendant must live with it for the rest of their lives. Remember, friends don't let friends hire lazy lawyers.