Be sure that you understand the penalties you are facing.
Making decisions about how to proceed at municipal court requires understanding the potential penalties you are facing. Depending on the alleged offense, penalties can range anywhere from a small fine to a driver's license suspension or even imprisonment. In some cases where the penalties are severe, a judge may recommend that you consult with an attorney. If you meet certain criteria, the court may be able to appoint a public defender to represent you at little or no cost.
Determine what additional consequences may arise if you are found guilty.
In addition to the penalties imposed by the judge, there may be other consequences that you should be aware of. For example, many motor vehicle offenses result in points on your license. Points are assessed administratively at the Motor Vehicle Commission, not by the court. This may result in increased insurance premiums and drivers who accumulate enough points may be subject to suspension of driving privileges. Also, a person's immigration status may be affected by a finding of guilt. Some professional licenses and commercial driver's license may also be affected if you are found guilty of certain offenses. If you have any questions about what additional consequences you may face, consult an attorney.
Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
Knowing whether you have a strong case can help you decide whether to fight the charges at trial or accept a plea deal in exchange for a guilty plea if the prosecutor offers one. If you are too confident but have a weak case, you may end up spending a lot of time at trial only to face costly fines. If you have a strong case but don't know it, you could end up taking a plea deal over a matter that should be dismissed. Consulting with an attorney can help you decide your best course of action.
Know how to minimize potential penalties.
Even if you plead guilty, or are found guilty at trial, don't panic. There are sometimes ways to minimize the damage. For motor vehicle offenses, there may be ways to eliminate points on your license. For criminal charges, you may be able to apply for an expungement. The options available depend largely on your driving or criminal history, and the offense for which you were convicted.
Finally, consider whether it would be worth appealing a guilty verdict.
Appealing a guilty verdict may result in reversal of the municipal court's opinion, but it can also be time consuming and require additional costs. If your case has a strong chance of success on appeal, it may be worth pursuing. Speak with an attorney who can help you assess your likelihood of success on appeal to determine whether to take that next step. But do so quickly. There is typically a time limit for filing a notice of appeal.
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