Is it sinful for a guilty man to plead innocent in a court of law?

If a guilty man pleads innocent in a court of law, is it a sin?

If so, is it a mortal sin or a venial sin?

A defendant cannot plead “innocent.” You get a choice of “guilty” or “not guilty.” Pleading not guilty doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t commit the act in question. An affirmative defense can attempt to show that you did it, but you should not be found guilty because there were extenuating circumstances, such as being coerced, not in a right state mentally, etc. You see an example of this in the Tsarnaev trial in Boston. His attorneys are not disputing that he helped set the bombs, they’re attempting to show that he was coerced by his older brother.

Of course, committing perjury would most certainly be a sin.

Though appears to be a tricky question it is so hypothetical and absolutely improbable. Will anybody who committed a crime fully knowing that it is a sin,will really be concerned and worried about committing the sin of lying about the crime? It is just like -Should I confess to a priest if I used foul language against the man before murdering him?

Does pleading guilty to an act mean that you claim that you did commit the act?

Does pleading guilty to an act that you did not commit constitute perjury? What if it was a plea bargain, and the alternative was potentially a much greater penalty? It seems odd that it could be sinful for you to avoid the maximum punishment for a crime that you did not commit.

Are all crimes sins? I believe that it is standard practice in cases of civil disobedience to plead guilty, and to use the trial as an opportunity to challenge the law itself. In other words, instead of denying that the law was broken, in some cases people might admit that the law was broken, and assert that the particular law in question should not exist.

Those are really good questions! When a defendant pleads guilty as part of a plea bargain, they generally have to explain to the judge exactly what happened [allocution], and the judge has the responsibility to make sure the person is pleading guilty with full knowledge and without coercion. That’s why if a defendant refuses to make a plea at arraignment, a ‘not guilty’ plea will be automatically entered for them. You can also plead ‘no contest’ to some charges in exchange for reduced sentence, etc. Pleading ‘no contest’ has different implications in different states.

I should state clearly that I am only a paralegal, not an attorney, a moral theologian nor a priest…:smiley:

I am neither a lawyer nor a moral theologian.

But my thoughts are, no, it’s not a sin. Everyone in a civilized society has the right to a presumption of innocence and the right to have that innocence maintained by means of a trial. Pleading not guilty is not necessarily a denial that he is guilty. It’s him asserting his right to a trial.

Further, if in some jurisdictions, a crime comes with a, say, mandatory death penalty, then he ought to plead not guilty, or even not be allowed to plead guilty and get the penalty imposed only after the state has presented its burden of proof and the defendant duly convicted and sentenced.

People have been known to accept a plea bargain to a crime they did not commit in order to avoid a possible conviction to a more serious charge (which they also did not commit). Some innocent people who insisted on maintaining their innocence have been sent to prison for very long periods for crimes they did not commit.

(For an example of people who went to prison for crimes they did not commit I recommend “No Crueler Tyrannies,” by Dorothy Rabinowitz. In those cases, alleging child abuse by daycare workers, not only were those charged innocent, the crimes they were charged with never occurred. A determined prosecutor fixated on a false charge can be quite a danger to the innocent.)

Of course, most people who accept plea bargains are in fact guilty. But for an innocent person, going to trial is often a roll of the dice.

In the US, pleading guilty to a capital crime almost always results in the death penalty being taken off the table. I recently read a story about a man who was convicted of murder trying to have his conviction overturned because he said he was coerced into pleading guilty because he was told that he would recieve the death penalty if found guilty. I believe he was a teen at the time of the trial.

I’m not asking about innocent men pleading guilty to avoid a death sentence, or even about the morality or lack thereof of the death sentence.

Here’s what I’m asking: if a man is guilty of a serious crime, knows he’s guilty, and still pleads innocent because he doesn’t want to go to jail, is he committing a sin?

It might be considered baring false testimony, as it would be falsely accusing the prosecution of lying.

In the US judicial system, “innocent” is not one of the things one may plead. One may enter a plea of “not guilty”. A plea of “not guilty” compels the prosecution to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, it is not a claim of innocence.

The judicial system is complex, and there are different charges one may be charged with. One may plead “not guilty” and it is up to the state to prove you are guilty of the crime you are charged with.

Remember, one may have killed a person but first degree murder, second degree murder, manslaughter, etc., are all things one might be charged with. Pleading “guilty” to one of these could result in a much harsher penalty than being found guilty of a lesser charge or being found “not guilty” of the level of charge. All of the charges also have very specific legal meanings-- first degree murder versus second degree murder for example.

A not-guilty plea can also result in a bargaining process between the prosecution and the attorney for the most advantageous terms.

No, it is not immoral to use legal means to defend oneself and secure the best terms possible.

I once asked a federal defense attorney I know (a Catholic) how he could defend criminals. He replied that when the Feds bring a case against you, they have a mountain of evidence and the defendant basically did the crime. His job as a defense attorney was to make sure his client got a fair trial, that his rights weren’t violated (which happens frequently), and that he negotiated the best deal he could for his client.

The "not guilty plea is one tool used in the adversarial judicial process.

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