Criminal Law Questions? Ask a Criminal Lawyer.
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Even if a plea can be reached outside of court, a defendant would still have to appear in court to plea to the charge, and so that it could be approved by a judge, who has the right to deny a plea agreement (though that's rare).A person should never appear in criminal court by themselves, especially on a felony. First charge or not, it can still result in jail time and a permanent record. Attempting to handle a criminal case without a lawyer and no legal training is like a person attempting to fly a 747 jumbo jet without having ever been in an airplane. A defendant will do far better consulting with a lawyer who can review all of the facts surrounding the case and request discovery (evidence) from the prosecutor to first determine if there are any viable defenses. Even if there are not, a criminal lawyer a) can better negotiate with a prosecutor because they can find the weaknesses in the prosecution's case and use it to their client's advantage b) is familiar with what judges and prosecutors in that area would normally accept in terms of a plea, c) likely has a working relationship with the prosecutor that a defendant doesn't have, and all of these factors give a defendant a better shot at getting the best deal possible.
That said, a lawyer isn't required by law, and a person may always choose to represent themselves, but they will be held to the same standard as the prosecutor and would be expected to follow all legal rules and procedures. And, the prosecutor doesn't have to negotiate or try to work out a deal with a defendant. That's within their discretion, and many won't even talk to a defendant without a lawyer present.
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