Some people wonder if the judge did the right thing by refusing to accept Ms. Leatherman’s plea. Under the law, a court can’t take a defendant’s guilty plea unless it is “knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.” In other words, you have to understand that you are pleading guilty, no one can be forcing you to plead guilty, and you have to be informed of the facts of your case and other important details in order to plead guilty. Therefore, if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or are suffering from a mental illness that prevents you from understanding what you are doing, the court can’t accept your guilty plea. Many defendants are surprised when they have to answer pages of questions before they can enter a guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) plea. But, this paperwork is necessary for the defense attorney and the court to be sure that you are aware of your rights, that you know what you are pleading to, and that you are entering your plea voluntarily.
When you have a plea deal, it’s important to make sure the deal is right for you and that you understand what you are doing.