I looked up the word plea in the dictionary and found 'the answer that a person gives in court to the accusation that they have committed a crime'
When someone enters a plea not guilty, does that mean that he was found guilty or not and is that a final decision?
ie: Mr. Jones entered a plea not guilty and asked for a Jury trial- what does that mean exactly?
If he was found not guilty why would he ask for a Jury trial?
Thanks a lot !
Pope of the Dictionary.com Forum
In the UK, all criminal proceedings start in the Magistrate's Court; this has no jury, but three JPs (lay people, usually the great and the good of the community) or one stipendiary (salaried) magistrate. The Magistrate's court has limited powers; the JPs may consider the offence and think 'We can't impose a long enough sentence if he's found guilty' or 'this has to be heard in front of a jury'. In such cases, the trial is moved up a rung - from Magistrate's Court to Crown Court.
Someone accused in the Magistrate's Court may well enter a plea of 'Not Guilty' but opt for trial in front of a jury, expecting that it will be easier to convince a jury about an element of doubt than to get mercy from a harassed magistrate (MC's are very busy - cases there can be dealt with in minutes or hours rather than weeks or months).
Aslo, there may be technical reasons to opt for a jury trial. If a person is locked up before trial ('remanded in custody'), the time served - probably months - is discounted against any sentence imposed by a higher court. So a guilty miscreant may well plead Not Guilty and opt for a jury trial, be remanded in custody (detained in a Remand Centre - more hospitable than a prison, with a laxer visitors regime), change his plea to Guilty at the last minute, and get a trivial (or no) sentence in recognition of the time he's spent on remand.
This is how it works south of the border. Curmudgeon will have another view.
What happens before a trial is that a person is accused of doing something. That means: "We think you commited such-and-such a crime; is this true?" (Of course, in court, it would be formulated differently, something like: "You are charged with such-and-such a crime; how do you plead?") The person who is accused then answers with "Guilty" or "Not guilty", meaning "Yes, I did" or "No, I didn't"; and then the trial begins.
At the end of the trial, the jury decides whether they think the defendent (the person who has been accused) is guilty or not guilty. This is no longer an accusation, it is a verdict, and that's the final decision and can't be changed without an appeal (which means going to a higher court and having another trial). If the defendent is found not guilty, he goes free and can never be accused of exactly the same crime ever again. If the defendent is found guilty, the judge decides on a suitable punishment -- this is the sentence.
Incidentally, Scotland is one of the very places in the world where there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty and "not proven". "Not proven" means that the jury believes the defendent committed the crime, but can't prove it for sure. The defendent goes free and can't be tried for that same crime again, but will always have the stigma attached that he or she probably did do it.
Note that this is a verdict, not a plea. You can't plead "not proven".