In Colorado, like most places, the first thing that scares the willies out of people when they are charged in a criminal case is the threat or the perceived threat of jail. Imagine their relief when the DA offers to let them plead guilty to the crime and takes away the possibility of jail.
In truth, although a jail sentence is one of the listed possible penalties for every charge except a petty offense or an infraction, often, though not always, the possibility of jail is remote. Even if detention is required, there are many types of detention.
What makes the threat of jail real? There are many different factors. What does the defendant's past criminal history look like? Was there a person who was victimized? How full is the county jail presently? What are the sentencing patterns of this judge? The list is very long. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for a layperson to know all the variables.
When you negotiate with the District Attorney in a case in Colorado, it is very important to know not only what the absolute worst outcome for you might be (which is the purpose of an arraignment), but also, practically speaking, what is the worst likely outcome. Only then can you truly make an informed decision about how you want to handle you case.
Hopefully, you will only deal with the DA once, if at all, but keep in mind the distinct disadvantage that you are in. The DA has the power of the State behind him or her and, even the most inexperienced DA will have done hundreds of criminal cases more than you and have an office full of experienced DA's to advise them. Even if you were a career criminal, a DA with 6 months on the job far outmatches your courtroom experience. And they know this too. How on earth could you be expected to fairly evaluate their offer to settle the case?
Know Who is on Your Side
While the DA has an ethical obligation to treat a defendant fairly and to do justice in every case, they do not have an obligation to represent the best interest of a defendant. What does this mean in practical terms? They are not on your side. In the biggest game of his life, a player never goes to ask the opposing coach what to do next and yet, time after time, people do exactly that when they go to speak to the DA. The DA wants to move your case along and plead you out to a sentence that best serves the interest of the State! The Judge is only there to make sure you are treated fairly, but this does not mean that the judge is there to see your best interest is served. Without a lawye, only you represent your interests.
There is More to Life Than Jail...
Having a criminal record will impact your life for an exceedingly long time. I can't count the number of clients I've had that tell me that they have no criminal history and, when I check, something pops up. "But that was 15 years ago!" They say, "I was a totally different person! I was a kid!" Doesn't matter. You will forever be tied to the person on that rap sheet, so take a moment to take this seriously.
Depending on a charge you may have more difficulty in any number of facets in your life. Not married yet? You will one day. If it ever ends, don't be surprised when opposing counsel brings out a conviction to argue why his client should raise your children.
Looking for a loan to start your dream business? Banks run a criminal background check on you. with a criminal history, expect the terms to be worse.
The list is nearly endless. With more records going electronic or on line, is very difficult to hide from your rap sheet.
You Have the Right to an Attorney...
When you are charged with a crime, you should seek legal help immediately. If you are already in the process, you should stop now and ask the judge for the opportunity to get legal counsel. Get the best legal counsel you can afford. Don't mistake this for getting the most expensive counsel necessarily, but do get the best: the lawyer that meets your individual and special needs. If you can't afford an attorney, ask the court to appoint you one. Under no circumstances should you ever go it alone. The more you try to, the worse position you will put your case in.
I tell clients regularly that the criminal charge they are facing is the most important thing in their lives right now baring either the death or birth of a family member. I say this because they will never be able to change history and they can only fight their case one time.
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