What happens after I've been arrested, and have to go to court?
Criminal cases start with either an arrest or citation (a "ticket"),
and a requirement that you come to court.
For misdemeanors: If you have an attorney (and I recommend
all people charged with a misdemeanor to consult with an attorney,
at a minimum), in many jurisdictions you will not need to come to
court personally for most of the court proceedings. (An exception
exists for domestic violence cases; the Legislature has recently
determined that if you are charged with such a crime you must personally
appear in court most of the time.) Your case starts with an arraignment,
and then usually proceeds to a pretrial conference. There
may be motions that can be brought, to have your case dismissed,
have evidence suppressed in (i.e. kept out of) court, or other pretrial
proceedings to somehow resolve the case without a trial. If a factual
disputes exists, there can be a trial, and sometimes there
are hearings about sentencing issues. If there have been
mistakes made and you've been convicted, you can seek an appeal,
or sometimes a writ before or after a judgment of conviction.
For felonies: Most jurisdictions will require your personal
appearance in court, at least initially, if you are charged with
a felony. Felonies are different than misdemeanors. Felony charges
carry the possibility of prison time, restrict your rights as a
citizen, and for these and other reasons are considered much more
serious than misdemeanors. Felony cases can include all procedures
for misdemeanors in addition to a preliminary hearing.
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must put on a minimal,
bare bones case against you, enough to convince a judge that there's
a reason to bring you to trial.
Court hearings vary greatly according to the purpose of the hearing,
and the length of the court's schedule. Some appearances involve
discussions among the attorneys and judge (such as pretrial conferences
and some sentencing hearings), some involve complicated legal issues
(such as motion hearings and appeals), and some involve presentation
of facts with evidence and live witness testimony (such as preliminary
hearings and trials). Your attorney should make clear to you when
you will be needed in court, and for approximately how long. If
staying at work is one of your priorities, your attorney should
minimize the times you are needed in court whenever possible.
Whatever happens in court, most of the work on clients' cases usually
happens outside of court. Good preparation is the key to a good
criminal defense attorney. Your defense attorney can review all
the evidence in the hands of the prosecution, and work with you
(and if necessary, with investigators and experts) to obtain additional
evidence that can be used in your defense. A good defense attorney
can also research the law to make sure that every possible advantage
available to you is pursued. Often, an attorney will work with clients
through the sentencing and probation stages, to make sure that once
the client is being supervised by "the system", they still
have some guidance and can still turn to someone for confidential
Are there other sentencing alternatives for me besides jail?
I hate jail. My personal goal for all of my clients is to eliminate
jail completely, or minimize the amount of time my clients must
spend in jail or in prison.
Many lawyers promise you that they will explore other sentencing
alternatives besides jail. That's an easy promise to make, because
many options are available under the law to anyone who qualifies
under specific guidelines set forth by the court, the Legislature,
the probation department, or the jails.
When I work directly with a client, it's important that I outline
specific goals for the client, considering he or she is faced with
a life-changing, usually horrible set of choices. Let's face it,
who wants to have to go to court to defend a criminal case? Given
that we're not dealing with the best of all possible circumstances,
it's very important for my client to help me understand where his
or her priorities are, so I can put my efforts into accomplishing
what's valuable to that particular client.
For instance, some people are most concerning with not having a
conviction on their record. Other people don't mind a conviction,
if they can make sure it's cleared or dismissed (sometimes erroneously
called "expunged") in a couple of years when they'll be
making a job change. Other people need to know that they won't miss
too much work because of court, or that they'll be able to keep
their job even if they have some sort of sentence to serve. Still
others have childcare, education or licensing issues that are most
important for them to protect. Others have a priority to see that
they (finally) get their driver's license back, so they can stop
getting little tickets that pile up and up and up....
Many of my clients find that they have drug and alcohol addiction
or psychological issues to address. Others need professional help
in controlling temper, range and anger. I can assist you in identifying
these issues, and help guide you (if you want) to and work with
professionals in the psychological, psychiatric, or recovery areas.
Successful work by you on these personal issues may (1) enable the
court to show you leniency where leniency may not have been easy
to get otherwise, and (2) allow you to deal with the source of a
recurring, debilitating problem in your life which you've never
before had motivation to control.
Whatever your personal issues are, I can work with you to make
sure you've identified them clearly, and then structure our work
on the case around your own priorities. What's right for one person
is absolutely the wrong approach for another. All alternatives that
are right for you, will be discussed, explored, and fought for
in court and out of court.
How can I manage to succeed on probation?
For many years, I helped clients who were facing probation violations.
These kind of charges happen when clients are on probation, and
must follow a certain number of rules, and they mess up. Sometimes
the mistakes are honest mistakes, a forgotten date or a late payment
of a fine. Many times, though, my clients were charged with violating
their probation because the clients thought the probation officer
would do something differently, or the clients did not really understand
what was expected of them.
Probation violation charges are extremely serious, especially in
felony cases. In all cases where probation is granted, the judge
is in effect telling the client: "I could give you a stronger
sentence, but I'm not. Instead, I'm going to give you a chance to
show me you can get your act together and behave properly."
Many clients, though, don't realize that a grant of probation is
the opportunity to prove themselves. (This is understandable, as
often a probationary sentence comes with a number of conditions,
and the conditions can be heavy such as serious fines and jail time.)
However, not understanding what probation really is often leads
to clients reacting to probation in exactly the wrong way.
The key to surviving on probation is the proper attitude. Most
probation violation charges are avoidable if you understand what
you are doing from the beginning. To that end, I have developed
these handy tips for my clients who are placed on probation. Pay
most attention to Rule # 4, as it was designed to protect you and
to develop your ability to prove you are compliant with probation
if that is ever questioned in court at sometime in the future.
RULES FOR SURVIVING PROBATION
- Take all deadlines seriously.
- Understand that the Probation Officer is not your friend,
even if he or she appears to be friendly toward you.
Remember that probation supervision is a substitute for jail
or prison, and that your privacy will be diminished.
- Accept the fact that the Probation Officer will consider you
guilty, and will not be interested in your excuses or justifications
for your conduct.
- Expect the Probation Officer to distrust you, especially during
the first year of your probation.
- Remember that it is your responsibility to move your life
in a positive direction, and that the Probation Officer will
not do it for you.
Make it a habit to document your contact with the probation
department, and to document all the things you do to comply with
the terms of your probation.
- Accept the conditions of probation, even if it means a drastic
alteration of your lifestyle.
- Accept and comply with all orders for drug tests and counseling.
Consider this a warning that you may be randomly drug tested
or searched when you least expect it. Remember, it's always
your choice as to whether or not you're going to pass your drug
tests. Later on down the road, you may not like the consequences
of your choice.
Keep your spirits up! Remember, you were not given
the largest sentence you could have been, you will be eligible
for a record clearance when you successfully complete probation,
and you can succeed on probation. It's up to you!
- Keep photocopies of all payments made for fines and restitution.
Sometimes the county loses paperwork, so always be able to prove
what you've paid.
- Keep photocopies of all letters or documents given to the
- Sign in on the Probation Office's log sheet every single time
you go to their office, even if you don't see your Probation
Officer that day. Later on, you may need to prove you went there
when you said you did.
- Buy a small calendar or a memo pad, and jot down a note every
time you telephone your Probation Officer, even if you only
leave a message for him or her. Also, jot down the date and
time of the calls. Again, later on you may need to prove you
called when you said you did. If you make it a habit to write
down your contact with your Probation Officer, you can use your
notes or calendar to refresh your recollection later if you
have to prove how many times you tried to reach your Probation
Officer but can't recall the exact dates.
- Never expect your Probation Officer to return your calls.
Always leave messages for him or her when you can't reach him
or her directly, but understand probation officers have a huge
number of cases to monitor, and don't expect they will keep
or respond to your messages. If your Probation Officer is expecting
a call from you, call back repeatedly until you are able to
reach him or her.