"I did the crime. Shouldn't I just plead guilty?"
Legal Guilt vs. Moral Guilt
Guilt comes in two flavors. There is the moral guilt you feel when you know you have done something wrong. And there’s the legal guilt when you are convicted of having violated the law. Moral guilt and legal guilt are not the same thing. When you are faced with criminal charges, you are legally innocent until proven guilty, even if you feel moral guilt.
The criminal justice system is set up to protect everyone from oppressive or unfair treatment. That is why the state, through the prosecuting attorney, has to prove every element of your charges beyond a reasonable doubt. If even one of the necessary elements of the criminal charge is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, you are not legally guilty. Your criminal defense attorney is there to make sure your constitutional rights are protected, that you are not subject to illegal searches or seizures, that evidence brought against you is reliable and credible and that the state meets its burden of proof. If the state fails to meet its burden of proof, you are not guilty of committing the crime in the eyes of the law.
Take, for example, a DUI charge. If you are charged with driving with a blood alcohol level above .08 then the state has to prove, among other things, that your blood alcohol level was above .08 when you were driving. Maybe you had a drink before you started driving, and maybe you feel guilty for that. But what if your blood alcohol level was .05 or .04? What if the policy administered your BAC test without following proper protocol? What if the BAC machine was faulty? You may swear never to have another drink before driving because your moral guilt is so strong. But you may not have to suffer the dramatic and damaging effects of a DUI conviction if you can avoid being found legally guilty.