As an individual, it is important to know what your rights are if you are ever accused of a crime. Most of the time, individuals are accused of misdemeanors, but can be charged with serious felonies. Many common crimes are D.W.I., possession of drugs, traffic violations, assault or theft. In the event you are arrested or accused of a crime, you must understand that you are entitled to legal representation under the United States Constitution. That means that once you assert your right to an attorney, the police must stop questioning you. Always assert your right specifically and clearly by saying, “I want my attorney present.”
If you are questioned by police, it is advisable to utter these words and then obtain competent and experienced legal representation present for the next time you speak with police. You might think that the police think you are being uncooperative by doing this, or they might arrest you anyway. But it is better to experience an uncomfortable night in jail than say something regrettable to the police. If you do speak to police, it should go without saying that you must always tell the truth, and not deliberately mislead them in their investigation.
An attorney can help you if you’re charged with any kind of crime, but their assistance will be most valuable to you if you’re accused of a felony or crime of moral turpitude (like theft or fraud). They will listen to your version of events, and will be able to obtain documents like the police report, video tapes or recordings, and be able to review a lot of the evidence that the State might use in their eventual prosecution. Having an attorney from the beginning will also help you potentially avoid jail time, and give you the chance to be bonded out of jail so that you can continue to work while you are awaiting trial. Further, an attorney could reduce the chance that you actually have to go to trial – many times they can broker a deal with the prosecution resulting in lower jail time, or lower fines.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you. You have probably heard this phrase a million times from TV shows, and it is a constitutionally afforded right; however, you have to be qualified as ‘indigent’ before you will be appointed an attorney for free. Public defenders will just as hard to defend you as paid counsel, but there are risks in working with a public defender. Many times, they are overworked, with huge caseloads due to the amount of people unable to afford their own attorney. It is usually worth the cost of hiring an attorney to help clear your name.
When selecting an attorney, proceed with caution. If they do not know how to represent you or have little to no experience with cases like yours, it can end up costing you more money, particularly if you need to hire someone else later down the line. Some thoughts on how to hire the best legal counsel possible: Find an attorney that has expertise in the kind of crime you are charged with. Many lawyers solely defend against certain crimes like DWI’s – make sure the attorney you meet with has experience in your crime. Find a good, local attorney. An attorney that has practiced in the area a while will be familiar with the judge, the court system, and probably the prosecutor. They will feel more comfortable in trial, and will know what to expect from each of the actors in court. Do not be afraid to ask friends and family for any good attorneys as well – some of the best attorneys do little to no advertising, and simply rely on word of mouth. Finally, make sure you find an attorney that listens to you. The best advocate will be one who understands your position clearly, so that they are better able to represent your needs.