Mortal Sin to Plead Guilty Falsely?

These days DA’s like to run up as many charges as they can then threaten you with 20+ years if you don’t plead to the actual charge. I know several people this has happened to and they all agreed to the plea deal, one only agreed after the prosecutor ridiculed her for not taking his offer. He looked around the court saying something to the effect of ‘Hey I just offered to reduce seven charges down to a misdemeanor off leash pet charge. Now I think that is a pretty good deal for Miss Dumbo here, what do you all think?’

She was furious and took the deal before she lost her temper.

But I am wondering, isn’t it a lie to plead guilty to something that you didn’t do?

While not always allowed by certain courts and/or in certain cases, a “no contest” plea is usually sufficient in this sort of situation. In much the same way, Christ offered no defence in front of Pilate - it is not a lie.

If a no contest plea is not allowed, then I would think it at least venially sinful to plead guilty to a false charge. Whether it is a mortal sin is not clear, especially since there is usually great duress, as you described.

It seems odd that it would be a sin to plead guilty when you are innocent. The contrary situation has come up for discussion on CAF. What I mean by the contrary case is that it has been argued here on CAF quite strongly, that you have every right to plead not guilty even if you know that you are guilty of the crime. The case discussed involved someone who had been driving while drunk. Someone had been injured. The driver was a public figure who more or less admitted that he was drunk and apologized to the victim, but when in court he pleaded not guilty and the amateur theologians here at CAF said that there was nothing wrong with pleading not guilty. They said it was a legal problem and not a moral question because according to the law you are innocent until proven guilty.

That’s how I inderstand it also. The Pleading is the taking of a position in light of the evidence, and the burden of “proof” being less than actual “proof”. It’s the path through the court procedure I choose to take. I may plead guilty in light of (say) brilliantly fabricated evidence and lack of an effective defence. I may plead not guilty in response to an inadequate case made against me.

The pleading is not akin to a statement made from the dock. If the prosecutor asks you now - “did you do it” - you must answer truthfully. Just as lies must not be told to the investigating police officer.

We are told to not bear false witness, but our plea is not a witness to the charges?

To say to the court ‘I am guilty’ (or not guilty) to a crime is somehow not to bear witness either way to one’s actions?

This just seems baffling to me or a legalistic maneuver.

Does not our allegiance to Christ and the simple demands of honor and courage not require us to tell the Truth no matter what the consequences may be or come upon us?

I guess I have misunderstood all that these years.

The pleading is to select a format for the trial/proceedings. There is no notion of “telling the truth” in making that selection. After all, a person who pleads not guilty and is subsequently found guilty is not then charged with perjury!

Even if the accused said that they were innocent under oath, they are not charged with perjury subsequent to a conviction. Juries have been wrong before.

Are oaths then also a ‘format’ for selection in a trial? You do have other options, no?

Lying on the stand can see you charged with perjury. Pleading does no more than choose the form of proceedings to ensue, and influences the punishment should you be found guilty.

There is NO expectation by the court that how one pleads must reflect your guilt.

There is an expectation that sworn statements / statements made under oath are true, and if not, sanctions apply.

That’s how I inderstand it also. The Pleading is the taking of a position in light of the evidence, and the burden of “proof” being less than actual “proof”. It’s the path through the court procedure I choose to take. I may plead guilty in light of (say) brilliantly fabricated evidence and lack of an effective defence. I may plead not guilty in response to an inadequate case made against me.

The pleading is not akin to a statement made from the dock. If the prosecutor asks you now - “did you do it” - you must answer truthfully. Just as lies must not be told to the investigating police officer.
[/quote]

While this is all true regarding a “not guilty” plea, I’m not sure the logic holds in the opposite direction. But it may?

A “not guilty” plea is understood to be (potentially) something other than a claim of innocence. Is a “guilty” plea understood to be soemthing other than a claim of guilt? I don’t think so.

There are other problems. Often a guilty plea along with a plea-bargain will still be met with some questions from a judge. The judge will probe whether the defendant understands the plea and terms, and whether they actually committed the crime. At this point, is it not a lie to confirm that you committed the crime (the crime that you did not commit)? If, at this point, you say you did not commit the crime, but claim to have no confidence in the court process, a judge may well reject the plea-bargain.

As discussed, a “no contest” plea will usually apply to these cases, so no need to lie. If a “no contest” option is unavailable, I have trouble seeing how pleading guilty is not a lie.

I can’t find this issue being discussed by moral theologians. I’d like to read something if anyone comes across such a discussion.

I believe this is true only in one direction.

A court does not expect a “not guilty” plea to be the equivalent of innocence.

But…

A court does (should) expect a “guilty” plea to reflect true guilt. A judge has a duty to reject a guilty plea of he/she believes it to be a result of prosecutor’s coercion when the crime in question did not take place.

Your comments about the plea bargain are correct, and one may not lie when the Judge questions you or you are required to retell the facts. Consequently, pleading guilty may not be viable when you are not guilty.

Another twist. It may be difficult to know whether you are guilty. Complex charges such as “perverting the course of justice” are not simple ideas. What you did may not be in dispute. Whether you are guilty of the charge is another matter entirely!

Why can’t you say that although you are not admitting your guilt, you are not contesting the charges? In many cases, the judge will accept that.

That’s a “no contest” plea, as I’ve discussed.

That seems to be the intuitive way to go, though I realize that is totally irrelevant to matters of law.

Thank you for the detailed analysis.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.