Frequently Asked Questions in Criminal Cases
Q: "Can I go to court without an attorney?"
A: You should always be represented in court by an attorney when facing criminal charges. An attorney will facilitate the best possible outcome for your case in ways that you may not know are possible.
Q: "No one read me my rights. Does that matter?"
A: The only time that you must be advised of your Miranda Rights is if the arresting office intends to question or interrogate you about the offense once you are in custody. Technically, you are in custody once you are handcuffed and are placed inside the police vehicle. Interrogation also commonly occurs at the police station. A voluntary meeting with the police does not require the advisement of rights. Only a custodial interrogation requires that your rights be read. Bear in mind that anything you say WILL be used against you so it is always best to remain silent and hire an attorney as soon as possible!!
Q: "What if the alleged victim doesn't want to press charges."
A: Once the police are called and the case is sent to the District Attorney's office, they are the only ones who can decide whether or not to file a case. Once a case is filed, only the District Attorney can decide to dismiss the case. Unfortunately, the notion of pressing and dropping charges is mostly a fiction that we see on television and in movies.
Q: "What happens next?"
A: The first court appearance is the arraignment. At this hearing, the attorney receives a copy of the charges and usually a copy of the police report for your case. Your attorney will enter a plea of not guilty and set a date to return to court for a pre-trial where negotiations can occur to settle your case. If the case cannot be resolved, then the case proceeds to trial. However, most cases do settle without the need to go to trial. If the case is a felony, there is also a preliminary hearing. This hearing requires the district attorney to present enough evidence to the court for the court to find that probable cause exists to believe that you committed this crime. You have a right to a preliminary hearing within 10 court days or 60 calendar days of your arraignment. This protects your right to a speedy trial. There are also numerous motions that can be run throughout the course of any criminal case. The most common of these is a motion to suppress the evidence in the case based on an unlawful search and seizure. If the arresting agency violated your constitutional rights, the evidence must be thrown out which will result in the case being dismissed.
Q: "What happens at a trial?"
A: First the attorneys address any legal issues that may need to be dealt with prior to picking a jury. Then the jury is selected. Once a jury is chosen, the attorneys make their opening statements. This is where they tell the jury what evidence they will hear and see. The district attorney then puts on their witnesses. The defense attorney is given the opportunity to cross-examine, or question each witness. Once the district attorney has presented their case in chief, the defense presents their witnesses and evidence. The district attorney also has the opportunity to cross examine these witnesses and sometimes presents rebuttal witnesses. Once all of the evidence is presented, the attorneys make their closing arguments. The judge then reads the jury instructions and the jury retires to the jury room to deliberate. This process can take minutes, hours or days. Once the jury has reached a verdict, it is read in open court. If the defendant is found not guilty, then they are free to go. If they are found guilty, a future date is set for sentencing.
Q: "What about bail?"
A: Many times people are not taken into custody but are released on their own recognizance. However, if bail has been set you should contact a reputable bail bond company to post bail for you. It is possible for the attorney to argue that bail should be lowered or that the defendant should be released. However, if you choose to contact a bail company, be prepared to pay a fee that is usually 10% of the bail amount. This fee is not refundable. If you pay the entire bail amount directly to the court and all court appearances are made, then your money is refundable once the case is concluded.