It's important to understand exactly what's expected of you at every stage in the legal process if you're facing charges. For instance, your first appearance before a judge may not even require much from you, as it's just to tell you what the charges officially are so that you understand your options and precisely what you're accused of doing. Another critical stage is known as a plea hearing.

Entering Your Plea

As the name implies, a plea hearing is quite simple in many ways. It's a chance for you to enter your plea and set the stage for the rest of the court process. Typically, you're going to enter a plea of no contest, guilty, or not guilty. This could also be the time for you to look into plea bargains, especially at the federal level. They give you a chance to decide how to plea based on the offer being made. For instance, if you're facing three different charges, the prosecution may drop two of them in exchange for a guilty plea.

Defending Your Plea

One of the most important things to note about this hearing is that you aren't yet on trial. That's the next step. At the hearing, even if you plead not guilty, you don't have to offer proof of your innocence. You don't have to present your case. You and your legal team don't have to offer a defense.

People sometimes instinctively want to defend themselves at the hearing because they're officially declaring that they're not guilty. They want to explain themselves and tell the court why they're making that claim, feeling like it will strengthen their case. They may adamantly disagree with the charges.

If you do, that's fine. You have all the right in the world to defend yourself, and you need to know your legal options to do so. But you don't have to do it at the plea hearing because the court isn't interested in listening to your reasoning. It simply needs to know how you'll plead to determine whether or not a trial is necessary, helping the case progress.