The difference between “Not Guilty” and “Innocent” in Pennsylvania is a distinction with a difference. To be found Not Guilty by a judge or jury is not to be found Innocent. Sometimes, it’s sensible to plead Not Guilty where you may not be entirely innocent. Here are three examples where you should consider entering a plea of “Not Guilty” where you’re not entirely innocent.
1. The District Attorney Has Thrown The Book At You
In some instances, the District Attorney charges the defendant with every criminal offense at their disposal. A man accused of punching their neighbor may be charge with not only Simple Assault, but also Recklessly Endangering Another Person, Aggravated Assault, Terroristic Threats, and Harassment. Even if you are guilty of punching your neighbor, you are probable not guilty of Aggravated Assault. Therefore, it makes sense to plead “Not Guilty” and fight the charge.
2. The Police Fabricated Evidence or Obtained Evidence Illegally
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has a harsh punishment for police misconduct. Evidence that is unlawfully obtained is usually inadmissible at trial. (In some circumstances it may be admissible).
Let’s say you are charged with Driving Under The Influence – First Offense. In our hypothetical, the police stopped you without cause. During this unlawful car stop they discovered you were drunk. In this highly generalized situation, it may make sense to plead Not Guilty. After you plead Not Guilty, you can litigate a motion to suppress the evidence under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. If this evidence is suppressed, then the State may be unable to prove its case against you.
3. The State is Prosecuting You For The Wrong Criminal Act
The defendant should strongly consider a “Not Guilty” plea where charged with the wrong offense. If you are present at the scene of a crime, you may have less guilt than the primary actor. You may not have conspired to commit the acts of which you are being accused.
An important underlying principle to remember is: the state has the burden of proof and the defendant has a presumption of innocence. The fact finder must begin the trial with the presumption the defendant is “Not Guilty.” This does not mean the defendant is innocent.
Speak with a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer for more information.