Do I need a lawyer?
Facing any criminal charge is a serious matter. If you have been charged with a crime, you may risk losing your freedom. Having a criminal record may also affect your life for years to come. The law is a complex and evolving field. There are thousands of laws on the books and hundreds of thousands of cases interpreting those laws. You have the right to represent yourself in court. However, a knowledgeable and experienced attorney will make sure your rights are protected, represent your interests and assist you through the process.
How much are attorneys’ fees?
Some lawyers charge an hourly rate and others charge a flat fee. I generally charge a flat fee (nonrefundable retainer) that is determined on a case-by-case basis. The fee is primarily based upon the complexity of your case and the estimated number of hours it will take to resolve your case. Prior to quoting a specific fee, I will typically meet with you in person and conduct a preliminary investigation into your case. There may also be a separate fee if your case goes to trial.
Will there be other costs, in addition to attorneys’ fees?
In many cases, there will be additional costs associated with your defense for such things as obtaining copies of evidence, taking depositions, retaining expert witnesses, out-of-town travel, etc. Potential costs should be discussed at the outset of your case. I charge a separate “cost retainer” for the anticipated costs of your defense. Any money allocated to costs that is not used will be returned to you after your case is resolved.
Will I have to go to court?
Many people arrested in Monroe County are from out of town. As a result, court appearances may be inconvenient. In some situations, your appearance in court is not required if an attorney is present on your behalf. (For instance, if you are charged with a misdemeanor only, you may be able to resolve your case without coming to court.) However, there are other instances when your appearance in court is required. It is very important to understand when you are required to be present in court. Failing to appear in court when required may have serious consequences, including a capias (warrant) being issued for your arrest.
How will my case proceed?
After an arrest, the law requires that the accused be brought before a judge within twenty four (24) hours. The primary purpose of this “first appearance” is for the judge to determine whether probable cause exists for the charge(s) and to set the conditions of pretrial release. Typically, the next significant court date is an arraignment. The primary purpose of the arraignment is for you to be informed of the formal charges filed against you by the prosecutor and for you to enter a plea. In many cases, a “not guilty” plea is entered at the arraignment in order for your attorney to investigate your case and conduct discovery. Your case will then usually be set on a pretrial and trial calendar. During the course of the proceedings, there may also be various pretrial motions filed on your behalf.
What is discovery?
The State Attorney is required by law to provide the defense with all the evidence that will be used against the accused in court. This includes the names of witnesses, police reports, witness statements, physical evidence, etc. It also includes any evidence known to the State Attorney that suggests the defendant may be innocent. Your attorney is then able to examine, question and otherwise further investigate the evidence against you. One very effective method of discovery is to take depositions of the State’s witnesses. As part of the discovery process, the defense must also disclose to the State Attorney the names of witnesses and any tangible evidence the defense intends to use at trial.
What is a deposition?
In all felony cases (and some misdemeanor cases), the law allows an attorney to question (depose) the State’s witnesses prior to trial. The attorney may question the witness about his or her knowledge of the case and what testimony the witness would give at trial. Questions on matters of “impeachment” are also allowed, such as whether the witness is biased or has some motive to lie. Depositions are typically transcribed, and the sworn testimony given during a deposition may be used against the witness later in court. Depositions are a powerful tool that often help to resolve cases without the need for a trial.
What are the different options available to resolve my case?
There are many potential ways to resolve a case, and a variety of factors come into play. Probably the most important factor is what specific charge(s) you are facing. There are many crimes that have minimum sentences required by law. If you have little or no criminal record, you may be able to enter into a pretrial diversion program. The majority of criminal cases are resolved by way of a plea bargain, where both the State and defense agree to specific, negotiated terms. Of course, you may want to go to trial on your case. In order to fully understand the options available in your case, you should consult with an attorney.
What type of punishment am I facing?
Generally speaking, misdemeanors are punishable by jail and/or a fine, and felonies are punishable by prison and/or a fine. In addition to the severity of the crime, the potential penalties may also depend on your prior criminal record. Many crimes have certain sentencing conditions required by law, and some felonies have “minimum mandatory” sentences. It is very important to understand the potential punishment (minimum and maximum) you are facing when considering how to best resolve your case. Potential punishment is case-specific; therefore, you should discuss your particular situation with an attorney.
How might criminal charges affect me in the future?
Criminal charges may affect you in the future in a variety of ways, some of which may be unforeseen. If you are convicted of a felony, you will lose certain rights, such as the right to possess a firearm. If you are convicted (or adjudication is withheld) of certain misdemeanors, it may be used against you in the future to enhance similar charges – for instance, a second simple battery charge can be filed as a felony. Criminal traffic charges on your driving record may affect your auto insurance rates. When facing any criminal charge, it is important to understand (1) the potential punishment you are facing, and (2) how your future might be affected if the charge is on your record.
What if I don’t want this case to be on my record?
You may be able to expunge (erase) an arrest from your record. However, expunction is available only in specific, limited situations, and not all arrests can be expunged. You also may be able to have your record sealed. Sealing does not permanently erase a case from your record, but it makes access to information about the case more difficult to obtain.
If I lose my case, can I appeal?
Provided you have not waived your right to an appeal, and you have legitimate grounds, you may seek to have your case reviewed by a higher court. An appellate court will examine the record from the lower court to determine if there were any legal errors. If the appellate court finds that legal error occurred, your case will be sent back to the trial court for further proceedings. In some cases, an appellate court may reverse a conviction outright. There are important time considerations in filing an appeal. Therefore, if you are considering appealing your case, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
* The information provided is general in nature, and it may not apply to your case. In order to obtain legal advice for your specific situation, you should consult an attorney.