You’ve Been Arrested – Now What?
After being charged with a crime, you probably have a number of questions about the charges, your rights, the process, and what steps you should take. To help answer some of these questions, our team has prepared a Client Information Sheet. Read the information below carefully and contact an attorney at our firm if you do not understand anything or if you have any further questions.
- You are arrested and charged with a crime: If a charge is made against you, then law enforcement thinks you are guilty. Whether or not the allegations are true, the most important thing to remember is that you should never discuss your case with anyone other than your attorney and their staff. You should not admit or deny your guilt, explain your actions, or talk about the case in any way. Although you may think what you are saying is fine to share, the prosecution could find a way to use innocent statements against you and call your family, friends, and even cellmates to the witness stand. Don’t take this risk; only speak to your lawyer about your case.
- Stay silent to protect yourself: If you are innocent of the charges made against you, you should feel confident that you will not be found guilty. It is imperative, however, that you refrain from discussing any part of your case with someone other than your attorney. You are facing these charges because law enforcement and the government think that you are guilty of the crime, and any statements you make could make it more complicated to prove your innocence.
- Don’t be discouraged; enlist powerful defense: If you have committed a crime, do not lose hope. You may be charged with a more serious offense than you should be, but an experienced criminal defense attorney can fight for reduced charges. And if you are found guilty, your lawyer can seek the best possible outcome for your case, such as probation, a shortened sentence, or another alternative.
- Bail / Bond: Posting bail or bond money enables you to stay out of custody while your case is pending. The bond is an insurance policy issued by an agent or bondsman that ensures you will appear in court. The bondsman charges you or your family a premium, which is often 10% of the bond amount, and then posts the full bond amount on your behalf. If you post bond in cash, the entire amount will be returned to you as long as you show for your scheduled court appearance. If you are still in jail, your attorney can attempt to have the court set a reasonable bail to secure your release. If your initial bail amount was too high, your attorney may be able to negotiate with the court to have it reduced. There are exceptions to bond and bail, as the judge may decide to remand the defendant and not allow bond in cases that involve such serious offenses as first degree murder, capital sexual battery, or violation of probation.
- First court appearance: If you are unable to immediately meet the requirements of bond, you will be brought to court, usually within 24 hours of your arrest. This initial appearance serves three purposes: the judge makes sure you understand and are aware of your constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent; the judge asks if you have an attorney or if you would like the court to assign one to your case; the judge will determine if the original bond should be reduced. In some situations the judge may decide to reduce bond at the defendant’s first appearance, but there are various reasons why the court often refuses to reduce the amount at this time.
- Arraignment: After arrest, you cannot be tried for the alleged crime until the prosecutor files formal charges against you. Law enforcement does not have the authority to file charges; this responsibility is held by the District or State Attorney’s Office. After the prosecutor has filed formal charges, you can appear in court to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Often times, however, the attorney enters the defendant’s plea by filing certain papers, and they do not have to appear in court to enter their own plea.
- The initial plea: In most cases the defendant’s attorney enters a plea of not guilty. This plea will provide your lawyer with the right to learn about the prosecution’s case against you, investigate the possible defenses that may be available, and prepare for a potential trial. Even if you did commit a crime, entering a not guilty plea provides your attorney with the time needed to prepare a strong case to seek the best possible sentence.
- Setting a date for trial: The date of your trial will be determined at or around the time of your arraignment. Most likely your trial will not be set to begin for at least a month, because there are other cases ahead of yours that must be heard by the court. This wait also gives your attorney time to prepare a strong defense on your behalf.
- Be mindful of your conduct: After arrest you must make sure that you are on your best behavior, from the beginning of your case to the end of your trial. You should not risk getting into any more trouble, and your lawyer will inform you of anything you need to know about your case. Unfortunately, your attorney may not have much information to give you until they have had the opportunity to investigate the prosecution’s evidence against you and file preliminary motions. At minimum, this process can take several weeks, as your attorney must find out precisely what the prosecutor is planning to use to prove their case against you. Your lawyer must first investigate the charges and evidence to create a comprehensive defense on your behalf. While waiting for your trial to begin, try to resume life as normally as possible. Although your lawyer may not contact you very often, this does not mean that your case is not progressing. Remain calm and know that your attorney is working on your defense.
- Your trial date appearance: A number of cases are typically set for a specific trial date, and during docket call, which usually occurs on Mondays, the trials for the coming week are set. Your trial could be set for any day of that week, and your lawyer will inform you when and where you need to appear. It is important to understand that your trial could be postponed to a later date, which sometimes happens when a trial set before yours takes more time than was expected. Your lawyer will do everything possible to keep you informed of when your trial will occur.
- Going to trial: If your case is actually being taken to trial, there are a number of things you must know and preparations that should be made. Your attorney will explain what you should expect, the process, and such things as how you should dress, conduct yourself, etc.
- Changing your plea: After investigating all aspects of your case and filing the appropriate motions, you and your lawyer may decide that the best option is to admit your guilt and change your plea. This could mean pleading guilty to the original charge or a less serious or reduced charge. Your attorney will give you their recommendation, but you have the final choice on how to plead. If you decide to change your plea, your attorney can speak with the prosecutor and try to negotiate a sentence. If the prosecutor and your lawyer can agree upon a sentence that you accept, the sentence will be presented to the court and must be approved by the judge.
- Be transparent with your attorney: Your lawyer’s job is to help you obtain the best possible outcome for your case, and it is vital that you are completely honest. Your attorney is not permitted to discuss what you have said in confidence with anyone, unless you agree to have the information shared because it will benefit your defense. Lying to your attorney or withholding the truth can have serious implications, because without the truth they could take an incorrect action on your behalf that could hurt your case. Additionally, if your lawyer presents false information during trial that you have provided, your sentence will likely be much more severe once the truth is discovered. No matter the circumstances, it is always better to be honest with your attorney so that they can seek to negotiate the best outcome for your case.
Every situation is different, so the information above may not apply to every case. Our firm believes these general instructions are relevant to most cases, however, and thinks it is important for defendants to know this information. If you enlist an attorney from our team, we will discuss the specific factors of your case to make sure you are fully informed and prepare a strong defense on your behalf. If you have any other questions that your legal counselor has not addressed, be sure to ask right away.
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