St. Louis Criminal Defense FAQ
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HIRE A DEFENSE ATTORNEY?
Very important. But unfortunately, most people do not take the time to even speak with an attorney (let alone retain their services). Instead, the majority of all people charged with a crime choose to go it alone (without the aid of counsel). And that is certainly your right; you can always represent yourself. But that decision can come back to haunt you!! That is because if you represent yourself, you will probably end up pleading guilty to the charges. If you plead guilty to the charges, that conviction will end up on your permanent record. And if sometime in the future you apply for a job (or try to rent an apartment), the potential employer (or landlord) will almost assuredly run a criminal background check. This background check will show that you have a criminal conviction (because you pleaded guilty to the charge, and now it is on your record forever).
WE WANT TO GET THE MISDEMEANOR CHARGE REDUCED SO THAT IT DOES NOT SHOW UP ON YOUR RECORD
IF I HIRE A DEFENSE LAWYER CAN HE OR GET THE CHARGE REDUCED?
Frequently, yes. Let’s look at an example of a misdemeanor charge for possession of marijuana (less than 35 grams). The basic process is this: 1) Your defense attorney enters his appearance with the court (in other words, your attorney lets the court know that he represents you); 2) Your attorney works closely with the local prosecutor to work out a plea (in other words, your attorney and the prosecutor come to an agreement to lower the marijuana possession charge to a lesser infraction, like “littering”); 3) The prosecutor issues a recommendation to the court in regards to the original charge of marijuana possession (in other words, the prosecutor tells the judge that your charge should be reduced to the minor infraction of littering); 4) The lesser charge of littering does not go on your permanent record; 5) Instead, the court orders that a fine (and court costs) be paid to the court (the judge will usually give you about 30-45 days to pay the fine in full; but in some cases, the court will allow a payment plan).
$375 TO TAKE CARE OF MOST MISDEMEANOR CHARGES
CAN I REQUEST THAT A TRIAL BE HELD IN FRONT OF A JUDGE OR JURY?
Yes, you always have that right. And in some cases, that is most certainly the best route to go. A criminal trial allows you an opportunity to present evidence, question witnesses, and make an argument to the court as to why you believe you are not guilty of the alleged charges. In fact, a jury trial is a Constitutional right afforded to all citizens of the United States. But you should also know that almost all criminal cases (somewhere in the range of 80-85%) are taken care of well before a trial. That is because the criminal justice system has determined that it is far more efficient to resolve most criminal charges by way of a “plea bargain”. A plea bargain is basically a deal your attorney works out for you with the prosecutor (in which you end up pleading guilty to some lesser infraction, like “littering”). And to be perfectly honest, allowing your lawyer to work out a plea with the prosecutor is your best bet (because it is cheaper, easier, and the whole thing gets wrapped up very quickly).
CAN I JUST PLEAD GUILTY TO THE CRIMINAL CHARGE?
Yes, you certainly can. But that would be a big mistake. Most people believe (incorrectly) that simply pleading guilty to the charge is the easiest way to get rid of it. But the exact opposite is true. A plea of guilty to the criminal infraction will result in a conviction going onto your permanent record, forever. So let’s look at a specific example. Say you are charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. If you show up in court and plead guilty, the judge will absolutely accept your plea (and very quickly move on to the next person standing behind you). And you will walk out there thinking, “Wow, that was easy!!” But what you probably do not realize is that by pleading guilty, the drug conviction will stick on your record for the rest of your life. And every time you go and apply for a job in the future, the potential employer will run a criminal background check (and screen you out of the applicant pool as a result). Every time you try and rent an apartment, the potential landlord will run the same kind of check (and deny your rental application). And if you are currently receiving some sort of governmental support (like food stamps, unemployment benefits, or public housing), then you can expect those benefits to be stripped. In the end, you will have put yourself in a far worse position. That is why you should always speak to an attorney before you do anything!!
CAN AN ATTORNEY MAKE SURE THE CHARGE DOES NOT GO ON MY RECORD?
At the very least, the goal of your criminal defense attorney would be to prevent the charge from going on your permanent record. Sometimes the case can be dismissed (by showing the prosecutor certain evidence ahead of time, or by convincing the judge at the preliminary hearing that the case should not move forward, or by taking the case to trial). Other times, your attorney can negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor (in which you plead guilty to a lesser infraction, like “littering,” which does not even show up on your record). And still other times, your lawyer can work out an arrangement in which you agree to a period of probation (usually between one and two years in length), after which the charges are dropped. Either way, it is far better to seek the advice of an experienced attorney before making any decisions at all.
The bottom line is this: if you are faced with a criminal charge(s), even one you do not think is all that big of a deal, it is absolutely in your best interest to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney before you do anything. Because if you choose to go it alone, you are risking some serious, long-term consequences.