Q: Do I
really need a lawyer?
A: Yes, without a
doubt. While it is true that in some routine cases a lawyer
cannot get a better "deal" than a person representing themselves and
pleading guilty can, this is a very dangerous business.
There are many
potential legal issues even in the most straightforward misdemeanor
criminal case. If there is a problem with evidence, a search and
seizure issue, or issues with the calibration of a breath test
machine in a DUI, such information will never come forward without
the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney.
The truth is, no matter what
the person's intelligence or educational background, the criminal
justice system makes it virtually impossible to do a competent job
of self representation. Each criminal case is unique, and only
an attorney who is experienced in assessing the particulars of a
case--and in dealing with the many variables present in every
criminal case--can provide the type of representation that every
criminal defendant needs to receive if justice is to be done.
An experienced and talented
defense lawyer can:
- negotiate "deals" with prosecutors,
often arranging for reduced charges and lesser sentencing (by
contrast, prosecutors may be uncooperative with self-represented
defendants, or inexperienced attorneys)
- formulate sentencing programs tailored
to a client's specific needs, often helping defendants avoid jail
- help clients cope with the feelings of
fear, embarrassment and reduced self-esteem that criminal charges
tend to produce in many people
- provide clients with a reality check --
a knowledgeable, objective perspective on their situation and what
is likely to happen should their cases go to trial. This
perspective is vital for defendants trying to decide whether to
accept a prosecutor's offered "plea bargain"
- are familiar with important legal rules
that people representing themselves or non-criminal attorneys
would find almost impossible to locate on their own, because many
criminal law rules are hidden away in court interpretations of
federal and state constitutions (for example, understanding what
may constitute an "unreasonable search and seizure" often requires
familiarity with a vast array of state and federal appellate court
- are familiar with local court customs
and procedures that aren't written down anywhere (for example, a
defense lawyer may know which prosecutor has the "real" authority
to settle a case, and what kinds of arguments are likely to appeal
to that prosecutor)
- understand the possible "hidden costs"
of pleading guilty
- gather information from prosecution
witnesses, who often fear people accused of crimes and therefore
refuse to speak to people representing themselves, and
- hire and manage investigators,
psychologists and other "defense team" members
Q: I am
concerned about going to jail. Are there options?
A: The answer is
yes, there usually are options. In some serious cases jail may be
the only alternative, but in most first offense misdemeanor crimes,
and in many felonies, there are alternatives to actual
incarceration. Many first offenders will not be at risk for jail
time if the case is handled properly.
Public works programs
such as Cal Trans or other community service type labor programs are
a real alternative in most Southern California counties to jail.
Also, certain drug rehabilitation programs can be an alternative,
and have the benefit of providing treatment to persons with chemical
commonly called "house arrest" is also available in several Southern
California counties. If you have a stable employment and residential
history, electronic monitoring is an excellent alternative to jail.
The electronic monitoring program allows you to keep your job, live
at home, and still go to work while "serving" a jail sentence.
Again, only an
experienced criminal attorney can make sure that these options are
available to you, and can craft resolutions to your matter that
maximize the chances of you being placed into one of these
alternative programs, rather than jail.
Q: What is the
difference between an infraction, a misdemeanor, and a felony?
A: In California,
there are three (3) types of criminal offenses; they are defined as
An infraction is a minor offense such as a traffic violation,
and can only be punished with a fine.
A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that can be punished by up
to one (1) year in jail, a fine of $1,000 or both. Examples of
misdemeanors are such things as DUI without injury, petty
theft, battery, and disturbing the peace.
felony is a more serious criminal offense. Felonies carry with
them the possibility of a fine of up to $10,000.00 as well as
incarceration in the State Prison system for many years.
Numerous felonies require registration as narcotics or sex
offenders and carry with them severe disabilities in future
Q: What is an
A: An arraignment
is the first appearance in Court for a misdemeanor or a felony. At
the arraignment the defendant is formally charged, notified of what
the charges are, and provided with initial discovery materials which
consist of police reports, lab reports, witness statements and the
like. At arraignment the prudent thing to do is to plead "not
guilty". There is a common misconception that pleading not guilty
at an arraignment may anger the Judge presiding over the case. This
is (usually) not true. If charged with any sort of misdemeanor or
felony offense, a not guilty plea and consultation with an
experienced criminal attorney are absolutely necessary.
Q: What can I
expect in a misdemeanor case?
A: Misdemeanors, as
well as felonies, begin with the arraignment. Then, depending upon
the facts of the case, there can be a number of pre-trial
conferences in which a negotiated settlement is attempted, or there
may be motions to suppress evidence filed, or discovery motions to
force the Prosecutorís office to either dismiss the case or produce
additional evidence which may be exculpatory.
The case can then
proceed to negotiated resolution or jury trial depending on the
facts of the case and the wishes of the defendant. In most cases,
the case will not go to trial. Over 90% of criminal cases are
resolved without a jury trial, and often this is in the best
interest of the defendant.
Q: What about a
A: A felony is much
more complex than a misdemeanor. There is an initial arraignment in
the Municipal Court, followed by what is called a Preliminary
Hearing. A Preliminary Hearing is a mini-trial in which the
Prosecution must convince the Municipal Court Judge or Magistrate
that sufficient evidence exists to "hold a person to answer" for a
felony offense in the Superior Court. In todayís environment,
persons are almost always held to answer in the Superior Court,
unless there is a glaring deficiency with the Prosecutionís case.
After the Preliminary
Hearing, there is another arraignment in the Superior Court. Then
there are similar steps as mentions in misdemeanors above, such as
pre-trial conferences, motions for discovery or suppression of
evidence, trial readiness conferences and then eventually (perhaps)
a trial. Again, most felony criminal cases settle without a trial.
Please be advised that
the above information is given only as a general guideline and is
not meant to provide legal advice or substitute for the consultation
with an attorney. Additionally, no representations or guarantees are
made regarding your case. Each case is different and results depend
upon the facts of each case.