Waiver forms basically give the defendant in a criminal case their Constitutional rights that are available and they also tell them all them all the consequences of a plea in a criminal case. So, before somebody actually pleads guilty or no contest in a criminal case, their attorney needs to go over their rights with them and then a lot of courts have what they call “waiver forms,” which basically expressly state all of the defendant's criminal rights.
The defendant needs to initial each right which applies to them and their particular criminal case and then sign the form at the end, indicating that they've read it. They've understood it. They've gone over it with their attorney and they don't have any further questions.
Oral Pleas In Court
Now there's, of course, exceptions to everything. A lot of the criminal courts — especially in felonies – very rarely ever misdemeanors — but in felonies, they do oral pleas. Meaning the defendant pleads orally to the court and then the court will go over all of their Constitutional rights with them on the record. The transcriber takes it all down so it's all written.
A lot of these courts are not doing waiver forms. I'd probably say it's about 50/50. Most of the downtown — 210 West Temple/Criminal Courts Building — most of those judges on felonies are doing oral pleas. Not all of them, but most of them.
Whereas, some of the other courthouses in LA, the judges do not do oral pleas. They use the felony waiver forms, which are very long and to a degree complicated for somebody who's never been charged with a crime before. That's why the attorney needs to go over with him.
Explain it to him. Let them know how it might apply to them. For example, if somebody is not a citizen, that person needs to be told that by pleading guilty to a felony, they're going to be deported from the country. They should also even consult with an immigration attorney — someone who could really give them idea in addition to their criminal defense attorney of what the consequences of any plea are if they're not a citizen, their immigration status is in question.
Advising Defendants of Their Rights
So, these Constitutional rights are important and the waiver forms are basically another way for the court to properly advise the criminal defendant of their rights, and also a lot of times what you'll see in the criminal courts in Los Angeles, is people coming back months and even years later saying they didn't understand all their rights, and now they want to take their plea back.
Obviously, the criminal courts don't want that because then they wouldn't be able to get any convictions on cases. People would just keep coming back. And so, by using the waiver form to say wait a minute, you filled this waiver form out. You initialed it. You signed it.
The judge asked you if you understood it. If you went over it with your attorney. Now all of a sudden, you're saying you didn't understand everything. So, that's really a way that they can block people from coming back and trying to up-end the plea, because then they have a bunch more cases they have to deal with and a lot of times if enough time has passed, witnesses' memories fade and evidence goes away.
So, now the prosecutors can't prove these cases anymore years later. So, that's why the criminal courts usually make it a point to have people fill out waiver forms so they can use those to show in the future that the person understood their rights and make their conviction stand instead of allowing them to take their plea back and get rid of their conviction. This is one way to block somebody from doing that is by way of using those felony waiver forms.
Consult with Our Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers
So, if you've never seen a felony waiver form, you can probably go online and take a look at them. Also, they're pretty much in every court in Los Angeles county. Like I said, I've been doing this for twenty-five years. I've been going over waiver forms for twenty-five years. The best bet is to go through them with your attorney. And even before you enter a plea, when you meet with your attorney, you should talk about anything you have concerns about.
Whether it be an immigration issue. Whether it be future employment. All these things need to be discussed with your attorney, but sometimes regardless of whether it's going to hurt you in the future — by way of your employment or your immigration consequences, if the prosecutors have the evidence against you and you're going to be found guilty if you go to trial, then regardless of whether you have immigration consequences or any other consequences, you need to work out a resolution in that particular case, because just going to trial and losing is probably going to subject you to a harsher penalty, and maybe even harsher charges, and you're still going to get deported or have that bad job consequence in the future.
So, it's definitely something to talk about with your attorney and obviously, make the right decision for you and your future and your particular circumstances.