Criminal Defense FAQ

Today, many of the penalties for drug charges are simply based on the weight or amount of drugs found in someone's possession when he or she is arrested. When more than one person is in a car or home where drugs are found, people can be charged for possessing of drugs that they didn't know were there. You need an attorney experienced in trying criminal cases to protect your freedom and rights.

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What is bail?

Bail is money or property that you pay to the court to make sure that you show up in court when ordered to do so. The purpose of bail is to allow you to remain free until the charges are dropped or resolved through a trial. Bail can generally be made in the following forms: (1) cash or check for the full amount; (2) property worth the full amount of the bail; or (3) securing a bail bond. If you do not show up, the court keeps the bail and issues a warrant for your arrest.

How is bail set?

Judges are normally responsible for setting bail. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the setting of an excessive bail. The amount of the bail should only be what is reasonably necessary to keep a person from fleeing before the case is resolved. However, in certain types of case (like violent crimes and sex crimes) it is not unusual for courts to set high bails in order to keep the person in preventative detention court when ordered to do so. There are situations where bail is not required and people are released "on their own recognizance." Generally people who are released without bail have no significant past criminal record and strong family ties to the community. The purpose of bail is to allow you to remain free until the charges are dropped or resolved through a trial. Bail can generally be made in the following forms: (1) cash or check for the full amount; (2) property worth the full amount of the bail; or (3) securing a bail bond. If you do not show up, the court keeps the bail and issues a warrant for your arrest.

What is a preliminary hearing?

If the prosecutor decides to bring charges himself rather than present the case to a grand jury, the person charged is entitled to a preliminary hearing at which time the prosecutor must show that the state has enough evidence of the crime to warrant a trial. Bail may also be set at the preliminary hearing. If the judge finds that there is enough evidence to support the charges, then the case will move forward.

What is an arraignment?

Your first appearance in court is often at an arraignment. You have a right to be arraigned without unnecessary delay. At the arraignment you will enter either a plea of guilty or not guilty; the court will tell you what you are charged with along with the potential range of punishments; bail can be raised or lowered; and a trial date may also be set.

What is a grand jury?

In felony cases, prosecutors may present evidence to a grand jury who will decide whether indictment should be brought against a specific person. The proceedings are secret. Although the prosecutor can call the target or suspect as a witness, this is not typically done. When a suspect is called, it is often in the suspect's best interest to assert the privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

Generally speaking felonies are more serious than misdemeanors. Felonies are crimes that carry a maximum sentence of more than one year. Misdemeanors are offenses punishable by a sentence of one year or less.

Is it wise to have a lawyer present when you are questioned?

Yes. If you are a suspect or being investigated for potential criminal activity, it is almost always the best course to have a lawyer present. This is true regardless of whether the questioning occurs while in jail or out. When someone wants to question you while in custody, you should request the opportunity to have a lawyer present during any questioning. If you desire an attorney but cannot afford one, the court will appoint one for you.

Should you assert your right to remain silent?

Yes. Whether in custody or not you should generally refuse to answer any substantive questions. This is done by affirmatively stating that you are asserting your Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination and requesting the opportunity to speak with a lawyer. If you talk your words can be twisted around and used against you. You should assume that anything you say can be used against you at trial. You can waive your right to remain silent by voluntarily answering questions even after you have asserted the right to remain silent.

How are attorney fees paid?

We generally provide legal services in criminal cases by charging a flat fee. However, in certain situations we will agree to charge a retainer and bill against that retainer at an agreed hourly rate. Most of our clients prefer a flat fee because regardless of how long the case takes or the amount of lawyer time involved, they will not be charged any additional money. When a flat fee is charged, the amount is determined based on our estimate of the amount of time and work that will be required to defend the case through trial.

What is sentencing?

Sentencing is a separate procedure that occurs after a guilty plea or after a conviction. In federal court the judge will set a date and time for sentencing as well as order a Pre-sentencing Investigation Report from the U.S. Probation Department. This document contains a complete life background check detailing the employers, schooling, debts, and incomes.