FOR THE CRIMINAL CLIENT
You are charged with a crime. You probably have many questions. We here at T. Charles Shafer, Attorney at Law PLLC have prepared this information page to answer some of those questions. Read this carefully and ask our firm if there is anything that you do not understand.
- You are charged with a crime. This means the police think you are guilty. This may or may not be the fact. Either way, the most important rule to follow always is this: NEVER TELL ANYONE EXCEPT YOUR ATTORNEY OR ATTORNEY’S OFFICE STAFF ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR CASE. Don’t admit or deny your guilt. Don’t explain your actions. Don’t say anything to anyone about your situation. Even if you say something perfectly innocent, there may be a way to use it against you. And anyone can be used as a witness against you, even your relatives, friends, and especially cellmates. Do not take that chance – talk only to your lawyer.
- If you are innocent feel confident that the case will come out that way. But, again, don’t say anything to anybody about the case. The State thinks you are guilty and anything you say might complicate establishing your innocence.
- If you have committed an offense, don’t be discouraged. Despite the charges, it may be that you are guilty of a less serious offense than the one charged. And if you’re proven guilty, an experienced, knowledgeable attorney can help you get the best possible outcome — whether probation, a shortened sentence, or otherwise.
- BAIL / BOND. Bail or bond money is put forth to allow you to remain out of custody while your case is pending. There are a few exceptions. In cases of first-degree murder, capital sexual battery and violation of probation, the judge will make that decision on a case by case basis. Bond is an insurance policy issued by an agent (called a “bondsman”) to insure your appearance in court. The bondsman charges a premium (usually 10% of the bond amount) for posting the bond. If you post bail in cash, the entire amount, less any court costs imposed at sentencing, is returned to you, as long as you appear in court when scheduled. If you are still in jail, your attorney will attempt to get the court to set a reasonable bail. If the initial bail amount is high, your attorney may be able to have the court reduce it.
- FIRST APPEARANCE. If you unable to meet the bond requirements immediately, you will be taken to court (generally via video camera from the jail) within about twenty-four hours of your arrest. There are three purposes for this. The judge must be sure that you understand your constitutional rights, particularly the right to remain silent. The judge also inquires if you have or will have an attorney. And thirdly, the judge may reduce the original bond. Occasionally, a bond reduction may happen at your first appearance, but there may be several reasons why the court refuses to reduce the bond at that time.
- ARRAIGNMENT. After you are arrested, you cannot be tried until the prosecutor files formal charges. Law enforcement does not file the charges against you. That is the responsibility of the prosecutor who represents the State. Once formal charges are filed by the prosecutor, you may appear in court to enter your plea of guilty or not guilty. Normally, however, your attorney will handle this by filing certain papers to enter your plea without your appearance in court.
- THE INITIAL PLEA. Normally your attorney will enter a not-guilty plea. This gives your attorney the ability to learn about the strength of the State’s case, investigate possible defenses, and prepare for a possible trial. Even if you are actually guilty, a not-guilty plea allows the attorney time to prepare the best case for a proper sentence.
- SETTING THE TRIAL DATE. Your trial date will be set at or about the time of arraignment. Your case will likely be set for trial more than a month away. The court’s docket usually contains many pending cases filed ahead of yours. In addition, the delay gives your attorney time to prepare your case.
- YOUR CONDUCT. Between your arrest and trial, you must be on your best behavior. The last thing you need is more trouble. Try not to worry. If there is anything you need to know, your attorney will inform you. Until your attorney has had a chance to investigate the State’s evidence and file preliminary motions, there will not be much information to give you. At minimum, this process will take several weeks, and generally longer. At this stage, you may be surprised to know that your version of the case is much less important than the State’s version. The State must prove its case and your attorney needs to find out just what the State can prove, if anything, before he is able to formulate your defense. Until your attorney needs your help, try to resume a normal life and remain as calm as possible. Although your attorney may not contact you often, that in no way suggests that your case is not progressing.
- YOUR TRIAL DATE. Your case likely will not be the only case set on a given date. During a process called docket call, usually held on Mondays, the trials are set for that coming week. That means your trial could be held on any day of that week. Your attorney will tell you when and where to appear. Be aware, however, that although you are given a trial date, the case could be postponed to a later date. That sometimes occurs when a trial set prior to yours takes more time than expected. Your attorney will do his best to tell you when your case will be reached.
- TRIAL. If your case is actually going to trial, your attorney will explain what you may expect.
- A CHANGE OF PLEA. After investigating your case completely and making all appropriate motions, you and your attorney may decide to change your plea to admit your guilt. You may decide to plead guilty to the original charge or to some less serious charge. While your attorney may make a recommendation in this regard, it will be your final decision based upon his advice. If this happens, your attorney may talk to the prosecutor about trying to agree on a sentence. If your attorney and the prosecutor can agree on a sentence that is acceptable to you, that agreement will be presented to the Court. The judge must approve the agreement between you and the State, but is not obligated to do so.
- TALKING TO YOUR ATTORNEY. You must be completely honest with your attorney. Your attorney’s job is to help you and he is not permitted to tell anyone what you have told him except if to do so would help your case and he gains your permission. If you have lied to your attorney, he may take actions on your behalf which could be impossible to correct once the truth is discovered. If your attorney goes to trial with you when you are guilty, the sentence may be much worse than if you had been honest with your attorney and allowed your attorney to attempt to negotiate the proper charge or sentence.
Obviously, no single Client Information page can be tailored to fit every case. However, these are general instructions which our firm believes apply to most cases and which most individuals charged with a crime need to know. We will discuss particular problems about your case with you. If there are any other questions that your attorney has not anticipated, you should be sure to ask.
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