Being charged with a crime is a very stressful event that has serious life-altering consequences, so it is important that you protect your rights vigorously to prevent future problems for yourself. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can make an enormous difference in your case, and attorney James A. Greene has practiced criminal law exclusively for his entire career, which included five years working as a public defender. You need to know what to expect when you get arrested, so we’ve briefly explained what happens in most cases below.
Arrest: The overwhelming majority of cases begin with an arrest by a police officer who pulled over your car for a traffic violation or who responded to a 911 call. This also where clients make the most mistakes and often lose their case before it begins. The most important thing to remember is to say nothing to the police and never consent to a search of your car or body for any reason. You will never talk your way out of getting arrested and will only make your situation worse by running your mouth to the police. Once it is clear to you that are suspected of more than a traffic ticket, you need to stop talking. If an officer asks you a question your response should be something like the following:
“I AM EXCERISING MY RIGHT TO BE SILENT AND WILL MAKE NO STATEMENTS TO THE POLICE WITHOUT MY LAWYER BEING PRESENT.”
Once you say that, all questions must stop, and they will then take you to jail to be booked and processed. Do everything in your power to be cooperative and civil towards the police officers and jailers handling you during your arrest and things will go better for you. This does not mean you should admit to what you did or voluntarily hand over your weed to the police. You should absolutely never consent to a search of your vehicle or body for any reason at any time. If the police officer threatens you by telling you they will call the drug dogs and tear your car apart to find the drugs he “knows” you are carrying, you should tell him to go ahead and call them dogs because you do not consent to a search under any circumstances. Often the police are bluffing and are trying to get you to consent so they can search your car when they know they don’t have probable cause. Remember this: if the police are asking for your permission to do anything, then they need your consent to proceed and cannot go forward without it. If they didn’t need your permission they wouldn’t ask.
Bond: Once you are arrested a magistrate in the jail will determine whether or not you should be released on your own recognizance or if you will be required to post a bond to get out. A bond is designed to guarantee you show up for court after you have been released. If you don’t show up for court then you lose your bond money and a warrant for your arrest will be issued. If you do show up for all your court dates then the bond money will be applied to your fines and court costs at the end of your case.
Bonds can be set anywhere from $100 to a million dollars or more. It is up to the judge to set your bond and you have the right to request a bond hearing to argue that you should be released for a smaller amount of money. If you can’t afford your bond amount you can have a friend or family member pay a bail bonds company to accept liability for your bond for a fee. This usually involves a ten percent down payment that the bondsman keeps. If you don’t show up for court, then the bondsman can be held liable for your total bond and they will sue the co-signor of your bond civilly to collect the money. Also, the bondsman may send a bounty hunter after you if you skip bail so they won’t be held liable for the bond amount.
Court: Within 48 hours of your arrest you will be arraigned by a judge, which means your charges will be read and you will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. You should always say not guilty no matter what. You will then be given a report date to come back to court with an attorney. If you do not have an attorney you may request a public defender, but that request will usually be denied if you posted a cash bond and may also be denied if you are working a regular job and have the ability to pay a lawyer.
Once you have a lawyer, the case will be set for various report dates for you resolve issues that may be holding up your case such as getting your driver’s license reinstated. At these court dates your lawyer will be speaking with the prosecutor and trying to work out a plea bargain to resolve your case. That result of those negotiations could be anywhere from your case being dismissed to your case being waived up to the Criminal Court system for trial. There could also be hearings in front of the judge such as preliminary hearing, which is set to determine whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to move forward with the case. That is a pretty low standard and really just requires a finding of probable cause, which means there is sufficient evidence to suggest you probably committed a crime.
Disposition: This is the final resolution of your case where you will either plead guilty or have your case dismissed. Your case could be dismissed because you fixed your problem (got your driver’s license back) or because the prosecutor simply chooses to let you go because they don’t have enough evidence or the case is just too petty to bother with. When that happens the court may enter a judgment of nolle prosequis (“noll pros” for short), which means no prosecution. If your case is dismissed, then you can pay a fee to have your record expunged, but you generally cannot get charges expunged if you plead guilty. That law has changed recently and there are new exceptions which allow some charges to be expunged after a certain time period has passed, and your lawyer can advise you about whether that applies to your situation.
If you plead guilty, you will be assessed fines and court costs which may have to be paid that day as part of your plea agreement. You may also be able to set up a payment plan with the court clerk’s office. You also could be sentenced to jail, have your driver’s license revoked or suspended, or put on probation. Probation generally means that you have conditions to meet to remain free and cannot get arrested again within a certain time, which is usually a year or more. If this is your first case then you may go on diversion probation, which means your case will be dismissed and expunged at the end of your probation term, but you cannot have ever had any criminal convictions anywhere in the United States.