Guilty of crime, but pleading not guilty


#1

Recently there was a case of an individual who admitted that he was driving under the influence of alcohol and that he caused damage to another person's vehicle and personal injury as well. However, when the judge asked him whether he was guilty or not guilty, he said that he was not guilty. Now is it a mortal sin of lying for a Catholic who did in fact commit a crime and injured another person to plead not guilty in court? Doesn't a Catholic have a moral responsibility to admit to his guilt and to pay for the damage that he has done, rather than lie in court and say he is not guilty. Further, by lying and saying he is not guilty, doesn't that cause the taxpayer to have to pay hard earned money to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did commit the crime and that he was guilty after all?


#2

I believe the question that is asked, is, “How do you plead?” If the person wishes to plead not guilty, then it is not a lie to enter that plea. Our judicial system does not require a person to ever testify against himself. The plea is not testimony but a statement of legal position.


#3

Guilt in a criminal sense normally requires some element either of intention to commit the crime or at least negligence or recklessness or the like.

Now the man may indeed have been under the influence of alcohol but not to a degree that made it illegal for him to drive, and may have caused injury but totally unintentionally - say the victim was suicidal and literally threw themselves in front of his car in such a way that even the best driver in the world would not have been able to stop. If so, what exactly is he guilty of? Legally, nothing.


#4

These are legal questions. Our system is such that there are layers of considerations to these questions. It is not as simple as “I did it, I’m guilty, let’s get it over with.” For your situation, can this man make a restitution to his victim in prison, or would it be better if he went through some kind of rehabilitation and paid his restitution to society? These are complex questions and I would hope that he man has legal advice and a good conscience to guide him. I do not believe that would be a mortal sin but he should go to his confessor and ask.


#5

Good answers so far.

Obviously each and every situation is different and court proceedings are very formal and measured. At the point of entering a plea, almost nothing has been examined by the court. The charges are read and the defendant is asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. No explanations, no excuses, no testimony...just guilty or not.

The plea of "not guilty" is simply a statement to the court that you wish to have the opportunity of entering testimony, extenuating circumstances etc...or that, while one part of the charges brought might be correct, other parts are incorrect...
Entering a plea of "Not Guilty" simply provides the opportunity for a more full examination of the matter in open court.

As to the matter of the "sin" of the actions with which one is charged...This is a matter best discussed with a good confessor quite separate from ones attorney.

Peace
James


#6

Interesting, interesting indeed. We have very different legal system in Europe so I can not compare it with the US laws, and actually, I don’t know much about our system neither. But I will try to answer it, if I get a bit latitude here, from the moral point.

A Christian, not only Catholics, are, if they practice their faith, to tell the truth, and admit guilt if so has happen. Driving and drinking is a thing that should be forbidden and the punishment should be much more severe then they are, so that is sin number one. If you kill someone, or close to, and have the knowlegde why, you are guilty. Nobody can sin without knowing it. It is always a choice, not bad luck. (It is not the fault of the police if you get a ticket for speeding, you did choose to do so.) So, from a moral stand point, the law is strict. You did it, you pay for it, and I think that should be the way to handle crimes also in US, no legal tricks, only a “yes, I did it” or a “no, I did not do it”. That is how things are processed in Europe. But, as I wrote, this is a moral stand, not a legal. One thing though, try to drive with booze up your head in Europe and you will be amazed by how hard the punishment is.


#7

Good to get a non-U.S. viewpoint.

A Christian, not only Catholics, are, if they practice their faith, to tell the truth, and admit guilt if so has happen.

Quite agree. The problem (at least in the U.S.) is that in the way the system is set up there can be a series a charges brought and the plea is entered for the group and not for each particular count of the indictment. So - if an indictment contains even one item that you believe you are not guilty of then you must plead not guilty to the whole indictment.
The particulars are then sorted out later either by negotiation between the attorneys or during a trial.

Driving and drinking is a thing that should be forbidden and the punishment should be much more severe then they are, so that is sin number one. If you kill someone, or close to, and have the knowledge why, you are guilty. Nobody can sin without knowing it. It is always a choice, not bad luck. (It is not the fault of the police if you get a ticket for speeding, you did choose to do so.)

At the risk of derailing the thread, I have to disagree with the idea that one cannot sin without knowing it. your speeding example is a good illustration. I know from personal experience that I can find myself speeding, not because I chose to speed, but because I was not paying enough attention.
If I were pulled over and given a ticket for the “sin” of speeding I would indeed be guilty and culpable for the sin even though I did not realize at the time I was doing it.
In the same way we can fall into sin through inattention.

So, from a moral stand point, the law is strict. You did it, you pay for it, and I think that should be the way to handle crimes also in US, no legal tricks, only a “yes, I did it” or a “no, I did not do it”. That is how things are processed in Europe.

Well said…The only caveat to be offered to this is, as I mentioned earlier, the way in which an indictment is worded can have an effect on how one pleads in open court.

Peace
James


#8

On the one hand, there is the legal system, but on the other hand there is the law of God. Does the law of God permit you to say you are not guilty, when you are in fact guilty and you know you are guilty of all of the charges? By asserting that you are not guilty, are you not in fact lying to God? And at the same time, you are making yourself a burden on the hard working taxpaying citizen who has to pay taxes to support the prosecutor who will attempt to prove that your plea of not guilty is false. Our taxes are high enough, and these criminals who are pleading not guilty are only making them higher still. Some court cases run into the millions of dollars. This is hard work for the prosecuting attorney and at the present time the courts are clogged because of the failure of people to admit to their guilt.


#9

That is what I believe also. From a moral standpoint, and from the law of God, a criminal who knows he is guilty of a crime, should admit his guilt and accept his punishment instead of lying about it to the judge and saying he is not guilty.


#10

[quote="Tomdstone, post:8, topic:325705"]
On the one hand, there is the legal system, but on the other hand there is the law of God. Does the law of God permit you to say you are not guilty, when you are in fact guilty and you know you are guilty of all of the charges?

[/quote]

I agree with this in all cases where one knows that they are guilty of all the charges.

By asserting that you are not guilty, are you not in fact lying to God?

In the aforementioned case of knowing one is guilty of all charges as specified...then yes I would say that this is lying to God.

However...Where there is doubt, questions, extenuating circumstances etc that can effect the **legal{/B] aspect of the matter, then no it is not lying to God.

At an arraignment there are only three possible pleas. "Guilty", "Not Guilty", and "No Contest". Being thus limited, one can be forced to plead "not guilty" in order to have a proper hearing of all the circumstances and so the court can then fix proper punishment.

Peace
James**


#11

#12

One might also consider the opposite situation, where a person is innocent of the crime charged. By insisting on telling the truth (i.e., “I had nothing to do with this.”) he forecloses many options for mitigation of charges and mitigation of punishment. He cannot accept a plea to a lesser crime since that would be lying, and so he is charged for the highest possible crime.

And people have been falsely accused and wrongly convicted, and serve prison terms for crimes they did not commit. By continuing to tell the truth and maintaining their innocence, they can not even be released early on parole, since parole requires an admission of guilt. And that would be a lie.


#13

[quote="LilyM, post:11, topic:325705"]
Exactly. It's a bit like a situation where a woman says to her husband 'honey, does my bottom look big in this?' If he values his life, his marriage and his wife's mental health he will under no circumstances say 'yes, it looks enormous' even if it truly does.

See, she is speaking in a code or shorthand that is well understood to both of them, and both of them know that she really just wants reassurance that she is beautiful and not fashion advice as she might from a girlfriend.

In the same way, 'not guilty' is a code well understood by all parties to legal proceedings and means, as JKRH points out 'I am sure that there is enough evidence that a judge or jury could and would find me to be guilty.'

I work in a different jurisdiction to him, and in mine there is no question of pleading to a group of charges with a single plea - even if someone here were charged with 100 counts he or she would plead to each one separately

[/quote]

Excuse me, I meant to say that 'not guilty' is code for 'I am NOT sure there is enough evidence' etc etc


#14

“not guilty” affirms the constitutional presumption of innocence. it tells the government is has to prove guilt. usually the government has piled on as many charges as it can, not all of which it intends to try.

its part of the process, when it comes time to plead to a negotiated judgment, there will be a factual basis for a guilty plea. in a serious crime, the fact statement will be long, very detailed.


#15

at a first appearance, without counsel, its unlikely the court would let someone plead guilty.

damages are part of the civil action, not usually part of the criminal case.


#16

So there is nothing wrong with lying and saying you are not guilty, when you are guilty and you know you have committed a crime and injury to another’s property and person? This is what Jesus wants us to do? To say we are not guilty and to weasel out of our responsibility to the person we have injured?


#17

However, if the criminal is able to get all the charges dropped by lying and saying that he is not guilty, then the civil damages might be a lot less or even nothing at all, since the person injured does not have any supporting documentation from the court. So in many cases, the criminal succeeds in weaseling out of paying any civil damages.


#18

doesn’t work that way in criminal law. anyway, its easier by a long shot to get a civil judgment.


#19

I know there is a difference. It is not lying to enter a plea of not guilty if that is in fact the plea you are entering. The judge does not ask you if you are guilty or not. He asks you how you want to* plea*. It simply is not lying.


#20

Tom,
I appreciate what you are saying here…No it is not alright to lie. You are quite right.

However, what we are clumsily trying to say is that, at an arraignment, pleading “not guilty” is not telling a lie. It is, as Lily said, a code word for…I wish to stand trial.

People do this because, while they may be guilty…there might also be mitigating factors to take into account.
We often speak of this in the realm of sin as well. To use a simple - and oft asked about - example, “Missing Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin”. Yet there can be mitigating circumstances that reduce or eliminate culpability for committing the act of missing mass.
So - I stand before God and He says. You missed mass, how do you plead, guilty or not guilty. I have to say, Guilty…But I expect God to ask “Why did you miss mass?” (though of course he already knows.) And my answers to that question will determine the seriousness of my sin.

A courtroom in the U.S. is different. If you say “Guilty” at the arraignment the judge isn’t going to ask you why you did the crime…Instead, he will just bind you over to sentencing. So you say “Not Guilty” so that (at trial) the questions of “Why” can be asked and answered.

Of course it’s not as clean cut as I make it out here…

Peace
James


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