FINDING A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER
Obtaining the services of an attorney who specializes in criminal law is important if your case involves a crime or potentially illegal activity. Most criminal law prohibits conduct perceived as threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the property, health, safety, and moral welfare of other people, and includes the punishment of people who violate these laws.
A criminal charge is a formal accusation made by a governmental authority (usually the public prosecutor or the police) asserting that somebody has committed a crime. A charging document, which contains one or more criminal charges or counts, can take several forms: complaint, information, indictment, citation, or traffic ticket.
If you are facing a criminal charge, no matter how minor, you should immediately seek legal advice. Even if you decide not to hire an attorney to represent you, a consultation can help you to understand the charges against you. Your attorney should explain the defenses available to you, any possibilities for a plea bargain, and what your next steps would be if you were convicted.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- You have the right to enter a plea of not guilty and have a trial either with either the court or a jury.
- You have a right to be represented by your attorney throughout the trial and at all other proceedings leading up to the trial.
- If you do not have the money or means to hire an attorney, you may ask the court to appoint one for you without cost, and one may be appointed.
- You are presumed innocent of the charges pending against you, and that presumption of innocence remains throughout the trial until the prosecution presents evidence to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- At the trial you have the right to confront the witnesses called to testify against you and to cross-examine those witnesses.
- You have the right to present evidence in your own defense and to compel the attendance of witnesses by subpoenas.
- You have the right to remain silent at the trial or testify in your own defense. If you choose to remain silent, your silence cannot be used against you.
- After the trial is over, you have the right to appeal to a higher court.
A person’s life can be thrown into shambles because of a false accusation. A police officer shows up and starts asking you questions. Someone has accused you of rape, theft, fraud. You’re innocent. You’re being falsely accused. What do you do?
There are three things to keep in mind if falsely accused:
- Don’t Say Anything
Anything you say can and will be used against you. If the police show up at your door asking you questions, don’t panic. Don’t proclaim your innocence. Don’t explain. Say NOTHING. Police don’t have to read you your Miranda rights until you are in custody and being interrogated. This is the time to exercise your right to not say anything.
- Don’t Say Anything
- Call an Attorney
The person you should be talking to is your attorney. All conversations with your attorney are protected under attorney-client privilege. Speak freely. The more information you can give your attorney, the better equipped he or she will be to:
- Deal with the accuser’s threats – If an accuser is threatening to falsely report you to the police, your attorney may be able to convince the accuser of the error of his ways.
- Protect you from incriminating yourself — You are entitled to have an attorney with you whenever the police want to question you.
- Determine whether charges have been filed — For what crimes? Misdemeanors or felonies?
- Negotiate with the prosecutors — If there is little or no evidence of wrongdoing on your part, your attorney may be able to negotiate and try to get the charges dropped or lessened.
- Sue for Defamation
Even after a false accusation has been dismissed, you may still want your attorney to sue for damages. A false accusation can ruin your reputation and hamper your future career. It can cost you thousands of dollars in legal fees.
If you’ve been falsely accused, you may have a claim for defamation. In a claim for defamation, whether for libel or slander, you would have to prove that a defendant’s statement to a third party harmed your reputation and caused you damages.
When a person is charged with a crime, a formal allegation (a statement not yet proven) of an offense is made. Once convicted, the person has been proven or declared guilty of the offense. In the United States, a person is convicted after a legal trial.
If you’ve been arrested, it means the police have enough evidence to believe you committed a crime. You are not required to answer any questions without a lawyer present. The arresting officer will take you to jail, where you’ll be booked your picture and fingerprints taken, and your personal belongings confiscated. You may be placed in a holding cell. You might be allowed out on your own recognizance for minor crimes, or you may be held for a bail payment. If you can’t afford the bail, you must stay in jail until your hearing. For serious crimes, you may be held without bail.
At this point, you haven’t been charged with anything. The police will write up a report of the crime and give it to the prosecutor. The prosecutor will review the police report to decide if there’s enough evidence to file criminal charges. If not, your case won’t go any farther. If so, then the prosecutor will file charges, and your first court appearance will be scheduled, usually within 2 or 3 days of your arrest. This arraignment or initial appearance is where the judge tells you the charges against you and you enter your plea. It’s a good idea to talk with a criminal defense attorney before deciding on your plea.
- If you are facing a serious charge, it is highly recommended that you have a defense attorney represent you in court.
- For a minor charge, you can consider simply consulting an attorney before your trial.
- To determine how serious the charge is, learn what sort of charge you are facing. A felony is the most serious type of crime. Murder and armed robbery are examples of felonies.
- A misdemeanor is a less serious charge. Shoplifting is a common example.
- Infractions are the least serious charge. Examples include traffic violations.
How to Choose a Defense Attorney
It is essential to use reputable sources to find potential attorneys. If you are charged with a crime that could cause you to have a criminal record, you need an experienced legal expert. A track record of successful defenses is important. Use the Internet and consult with online resources uncovered by web searches, state and local Bar Associations (and search under Certified Criminal Law Specialist), and referrals.
Be realistic about your finances. Hiring a strong criminal defense firm is going to be expensive. Even the simplest representation will run at least $5,000, and perhaps much more before your case is over. Hiring an attorney who works with a large firm will generally cost more than an independent attorney or one who works with a small partnership.
Consider the public defender option. Before you search for a private law firm to handle your defense, consider the possibility of a public defender. You do not have to be unemployed to qualify for a court appointed attorney. The court will consider the total circumstances of your finances to determine whether you qualify.
Do your usual due diligence: Research law firms on the Internet (see links available on this site), talk to friends or colleagues for recommendations.
Quotes of Wisdom
“When you have a big legal decision to make, try reaching out to an actual lawyer—they might answer your question for free. And when you have a smaller question, at least check your sources, and don’t trust anonymous information. Because “That’s what the internet said!” doesn’t tend to win court cases.”
Staff Writer, Lifehacker
“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
“And although I broke a lot of laws as a teenager, I straightened out immediately upon turning eighteen, when I realized the state had a legal right to execute me.”
― George Carlin
“For a lawyer to do less than his utmost is, I strongly feel, a betrayal of his client. Though in criminal trials one tends to focus on the defense attorney and his client the accused, the prosecutor is also a lawyer, and he too has a client: the People. And the People are equally entitled to their day in court, to a fair and impartial trial, and to justice.”
― Vincent Bugliosi
“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
– Thomas Jefferson (1788)