Most people have just a passing familiarity with the criminal justice system and are perfectly happy to keep it that way.
However, if you are being investigated in relation to crime, or if you have been accused, charged or arrested, you will find yourself thrust into an unfamiliar world of procedure and jargon without anyone looking out for your interests unless you retain counsel.
While some arrests are made on scene (for example, when responding to a 911 call), many others are the result of weeks, months, or even years of previous investigation. Confidential informants may be involved. In the case of drug charges, controlled buys may be set up. In federal court, white-collar crimes may involve the use of forensic accountants to trace funds. In any of these cases, you can be sure that law enforcement officers will have done their homework at each step.
In state court, if an arrest is not made on scene, the officer will file a sworn complaint, a document that sets out the allegations of each offense against you. A sworn complaint can have multiple counts; for example, if you are found to have a bong or pipe along with marijuana, you can be charged with one count of possession of marijuana and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. In a DUI case, you may initially be pulled over for driving erratically. If you are ultimately arrested for DUI, you will have two counts—one for driving under the influence and another for careless or reckless driving.
Once the sworn complaint is completed, it is sent to the Office of the State Attorney where a prosecutor will review it, take sworn testimony from witnesses, and then decide whether to file formal charges. Those formal charges usually come by way of a document called an information which initiates the official criminal case against you.
It is crucial to contact an attorney as soon as you are aware that you may be charged. When you retain our firm, we immediately contact the prosecutor to ask that a formal charge decision be delayed until we have had a chance to investigate the case and meet with him or her to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence. If you do not hire counsel, you will be missing an advocate at this important stage of the process and will have nobody to speak on your behalf.
If you are arrested, you will be taken into custody and may spend the night in jail until your first appearance the next morning. Again, it is important to call an attorney right away. If you retain our firm, we will gather evidence to present on your behalf at first appearance. We will provide information to the judge on the various statutory factors that must be taken into account in setting a bond amount, such as ties to the community, previous history, current employment, and others.
During the pendency of the case, there are court events that you must attend—arraignment, case management conferences, and pretrial conferences, for example. Hiring counsel means that your attorneys will attend those events on your behalf, saving you from missing school or work.
Attorneys also investigate witnesses on your behalf (and in felony cases can question the State’s anticipated witnesses through a process known as taking depositions) and conduct legal research to determine whether there are defects in the case such as flaws in the manner in which evidence was obtained. If such defects exist, the attorneys will file motions with the court (usually in the form of motions to suppress) asking that the evidence be suppressed, or prohibited from being used in court.
If your case is not dismissed, you will be faced with an important decision: enter a plea or proceed to trial? Either one has consequences you must carefully consider. A plea means that you have chosen to accept an offer from the prosecutor to resolve the case. We can assist you in reaching a plea deal by negotiating factors such as the number of charges, the type of charges (misdemeanors instead of felonies), and the sanctions (length of probation, length of jail time, hours of community service, etc.). We will also argue on your behalf for a withhold of adjudication, which means you will not be convicted of the crime. Withholds can be vitally important to your future school and work prospects, as many applications ask whether you have ever been convicted of a crime. If you receive a withhold of adjudication, you can answer “no” to that questions.
If you choose to go to trial instead, you need attorneys to represent you in the courtroom. They will conduct voir dire, the process by which a jury is selected, and then try your case. They will present an opening statement, examine witnesses for your side, and introduce evidence and exhibits that support your version of events. When the State puts on its witnesses, your attorneys will object to improper questions asked by the prosecutor, cross-examine those witnesses, and object to improper evidence and exhibits. The attorneys will also make appropriate motions throughout the trial. After closing argument, the jury will deliberate and reach a verdict.
If you are found guilty, you will go before the judge to be sentenced. Our attorneys are accomplished at preparing and presenting mitigation evidence during the sentencing hearing to argue for the fewest sanctions possible. Some sentencing hearings can be lengthy, depending on the nature of the case, and can last upwards of a full day. The sentencing hearing is an enormously important part of the proceedings, as a skillful presentation can make a difference in the number of months or years that are imposed upon you.