If someone is clearly guilty, why would they plead not guilty?

Hi SD,

Recently Oliver Lee, the man who shot one person while attempting to steal an $18000 watch from a Long Island Mall, pled not guilty in his first court appearance.

Why would he do this? Everyone saw him do it. He was clearly the shooter. No doubt. Making this trial go longer would just be an unnecessary drain of city resources. If he’s trying to save his skin, would he not be better off pleading guilty and trying to get a deal from the prosecution? What is his strategy?

If it is clear that you committed the crime, is it best to plead innocent, guilty, or not enter a plea?



Any trial is a gamble. The state may screw up the case and the guy could go free. If he doesn’t have a record he may not be in danger of imprisonment, but if he is then he may prefer to stay in the local jail for which he’ll get time served instead of heading right off to prison. Unless you’re in a hurry to get it all over with or getting some kind of deal there’s no reason for anyone to plead guilty to a crime initially.

Legally, pleading Not Guilty isn’t the same as saying, “I didn’t do it.” It’s more like saying, “You think I did it? Prove it!”

Why should he admit he did it? It’s the prosecution’s job to prove he did it, a d furthermore to prove that he fit into all the categories of commiting a crime. (Was he sane, was acting under duress, etc.)

What deal? A deal is when both sides agree to give something. If he pleads guilty at the first court appearance, he’s giving them the plea they want for free.

a federal public defender told me in fed court 95% of people plead guilty but they do negotiate for the deal.

The 5% who go to trial have nothing to lose , they are not going to get a better deal and they might get off. Those are mostly people who face life or the death penalty.

In this circumstance , the jury may find he was reckless but not of murderous intent. Of course, the intent to commit the armed robbery is enough to make it murder ; but a jury or judge may let it go as manslaughter, no intent to murder, the gun was just there to negotiate a lower price.
Also the death penalty is taken out of the list of possibilities if he is found to be insane . It probably is the same as a life sentence, as the criminally insane are held in a jail anyway… But some do get out… For example various cancers and tumours, can cause mental illness… and then when that is treated the person can be said to be cured of mental illness… For privacy reasons, for the good of the victim of mental illness, and their family, the release of criminally insane is rarely publicised. It would cost a fortune to have the victim being hounded (as occurs to sex offenders who get out of jail…??? )

My son was up on a misdemeanor theft charge. First (and only) offense, driven by his then addiction to opioids. He, in the depths of self pity, wanted to just plead guilty. I got him an attorney.

His lawyer had this measured and sage question: “What are you, stupid?”

Despite being clearly guilty and having turned himself in, he ended up with probation, attending rehab, weekly testing, and expunging of his record through a deal with the prosecutor.

If you’ve already plead guilty to a crime, why on earth would a prosecutor offer you a deal? The whole point of a plea deal from his side is for the prosecutor to avoid an expensive and risky trial, if you plead guilty then there isn’t a trial and they skip straight to sentencing.

You plead not guilty unless you have a plea bargain in place or it’s a really stupidly minor offense that you want to just pay the fine for. If you plead guilty, then they throw the book at you. If you refuse to enter a plea, you either get contempt of court added to your legal troubles, or the judge takes pity on you and enters a ‘not guilty’ plea on your behalf. Some places have a nolo contendere (no contest) plea, which works just like ‘guilty’ except that you don’t have to actually say you did the crime.

This is why i like the saying “everybody hates lawyers until they need one.”

In my jurisdiction (Canada) by pleading not guilty one triggers the right to Crown disclosure. That means the Criwn has to send you copies or summaries of all relevant evidence: police reports, can-says, video or audio recordings, etc.

Getting full disclosure allows your lawyer to make a full review of the case against you and consider the best course of conduct.

In a rare heaven-sent case, the disclosure may include a silver bullet that kills the Crown’s case dead. If so, you may reasonably have a chance at an acquittal. More commonly, the disclosure may have the seeds for a plea deal, in assessing whether the crime is basic or aggravated, etc.

Do pleading not guilty gives the accused the right to disclosure and the time to review it.

Once, in traffic court, I was clearly guilty. My case was fifth on the docket and the judge totally humiliated the “not guilty” defendants in cases 1-4. The obvious thing for me to do was plead “guilty” and take my lumps like a man.

But the cop was a little too cocky. He looked at me with a really smug smile, well before it was time for my case. He overplayed his hand. I didn’t know why, but he did. The first thing the judge asked me was, “How do you plead?” I looked the cop right in the eye and said “Not guilty.”

Judge asks the cop what happen and the cop totally folds. “I’m not sure, your honor. I lost my notebook for that day.” Without even asking for my side of the story, the judge dismissed.

This was in Washington, DC. In the surrounding jurisdictions, esp. Fairfax and Montgomery counties, they add court costs and other penalties if you plead not guilty but are found guilty, but for some reason DC doesn’t do that. There is simply no incentive to plead guilty, and the policeman is unusually likely to mess up in some trivial way that will get the case kicked. I beat a parking ticket there under very similar circumstances.

What about different charges?
Maybe a person gets charged with murder and pleads not guilty because they think it was just manslaughter?
I don’t know how this stuff works.

In England the system is that a guilty plea is taken into consideration when the actual sentence is being decided. Basically an early guilty plea means less jail time, or a lower fine or whatever. Conversely if you are found guilty, having pleaded not guilty, and especially if it is a sex crime (and your not guilty plea meant the victim had to testify) your subsequent sentence will be nearer to the maximum.


I get it, I just feel like if I was guilty and it was plain as day that I murdered someone, I would plead guilty. I wouldn’t want to have to confront the family or see or hear grisly testimony or crime photos. Just put me in prison already. I’ll be damned if it’s on the prosecution to prove my guilt, trial is long, drawn out, and I don’t need the law to have the pleasure of putting me through the wringer.

I manned up when I was charged with impaired driving some 30 years ago. I faced the music and knew exactly what the sentence would be, a large fine and a year of not driving. I had absolutely nothing to gain from a not guilty plea. I don’t get the not guilty plea either: face the music.

You could try. The judge doesn’t have to accept it. Unless you can show that you’re competent to plead guilty, the judge actually can’t accept it.

That might happen anyways. You still have to be sentenced. The court has to know what happened to be able to sentence you correctly. (And for murder, the correct sentence in many states might be death depending on the circumstances. That requires a jury and a hearing resembling a full trial even if you plead guilty. I’m actually not sure you can plead guilty in a death penalty case. I think the Fort Hood shooter was prohibited from pleading guilty as he wished to do since the death penalty was an option.)

Why would the OP consider making up an almost literally bullshit story to get out of a traffic ticket?

Same thing except for the possible consequences.

Would you respond the same way if you faced a death sentence?

Well, if you murder someone, you must not have much respect for life in general. I don’t know. The best reason I heard not to plead guilty was because maybe you think it’s manslaughter and they think it’s murder. So it’s more fighting over how to classify your action, not any doubt over whether you did it. But even so, manslaughter or murder, anyone who’d commit an act that could be construed as murder should throw in the towel and make it easier on everybody.