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WHAT IS THE CRIMINAL PROCESS
Each step that lies ahead requires our dedication and skill.
The best time to retain an attorney is before trouble starts. If you know that someone will name you as a criminal suspect, only an attorney can stop or lessen the impact of arrest.
• The Arrest
Police arrest based on probable cause that you have committed a crime. They provide reports and evidence to the prosecutor who then decides whether or not charges should be filed.
• Arraignment before a Judge
At the arraignment you are advised of the charges against you. You plead not guilty and your attorney persuades the court to release you either “O.R.” (on your own recognizance) or on BAIL – an “insurance policy” that you will appear on future court dates. If bail is allowed, the amount is based on two factors – your risk of flight and whether you pose a danger to the community.
• Preliminary Hearing
A judge hears the evidence and charges against you. Both in court and using prepared legal motions your attorney impeaches witnesses against you, resists attempts by the district attorney to add additional charges, suppresses evidence against you, enters evidence in your favor, and in some cases even asks the court to examine arresting police officers’ backgrounds.
• Arraignment for Trial
If the judge decides the alleged charges deserve trial, you are again formally advised of your constitutional rights – and again you enter a plea of not guilty.
• Pre-trial Conference
Your attorney can discuss your case with the prosecuting attorney and the judge. This is a good opportunity to obtain the best possible “deal” – or plea-bargain.
A 12-member jury decides whether the prosecution has proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds you not guilty, you are free to go and not subject to further prosecution based on the same offenses.
Penalties vary widely. If you are found guilty, a sentencing hearing is held so that your attorney can argue for the lowest possible penalty – the lowest being probation instead of a term in state prison.
In case of conviction an appeal should be filed. The appeal is considered a separate case.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Q. When should I contact an attorney?
A. Immediately! Time is of the essence. If you are under investigation for an offense, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Even if you are innocent of the charges against you or your case is under investigation, you need competent representation to protect your rights.
Q. Why do I need an attorney?
A. Only an expreienced attorney can evaluate your case and determine the likelihood of success at trial or, in the aternatetive, negotiate a favorable plea-bargain. Before charges are actually filed against you, your attorney, with the help with a private investigators, may be able to provide evidence to the prosecutor or police agency that may persuade them not to file charges against you. Early planning gives your attorney moretime to conduct a thourough investigation and preserve any evidence in your favor as early as possible.
After charges have been filed against you, your attorney will evaluate whether it is in your best interest to proceed to trial. Your attorney will develop the best strategy to build a winning defense. However, if a trial is not in your best interest, your attorney will then negotiate a favorable plea-bargain.
Q. Should I talk to the police?
A. Absolutely not! Make no statement and sign nothing. If the police are investigating you, you may not be aware of it. At some point, they may ask you to come to the station to give a statement. You may believe this is your chance to tell your side of the story. Don't do it! Be aware, this is a very dangerous time for anyone charged or under investigation for an offense. Do not allow the police to scare or intimidate you into answering their questions. Some police officerswill do or promise almost anything in an attempt to coerce or trick you into giving a statement.
Instead of talking to the police, you should consult with an attorney immediately. Your attorney will intercede on your behalf and talk to the detectives for you. This is a great way to provide valuable information regarding your innocence and may result in charges not being filed against you. More importantly, doing so will keep you from giving a statement that will undoubtedly be used against you. Know this, the police are not there to clear you of charges. The police are there to gather as much evidence as they can to make a case against you that will eventually lead to a conviction. Any statement you make will ultimately be used by the prosecution at trial. Even statements made by you that you believe to be innocent can be damaging. Remember, it is your absolute right to say nothing. Exercise it!