What to Expect if You Have Been Charged with a crime
Being charged with a crime in Austin is a very scary moment in your life. The government has the power to take away your freedom for the rest of your life. A very complex process starts to operate the minute you are arrested by the police. It is frightening and bewildering.
In this article we will give you a good idea of the criminal process and what you can expect if you are ever charged with a crime. But these are generalities only. The real answer depends on the type of crime you were charged with, the circumstances surrounding it, the county you are in, etc. Only those who understand the criminal law process, and know how to make it work, can really tell you what to expect in your particular case. This is one area of the law you do not ever want to handle on your own.
Austin Criminal Defense: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we provide a free consultation to anyone charged with a crime. You should take advantage of that free consultation immediately. Having an attorney is so important to successfully getting through the criminal process. Get a free initial consultation by calling Attorney Johnson now at 512-832-1200, 24 hours/day, 365 days/year.
Here are the steps you can expect to happen, and what each step in the process means to you.
Stop & Arrest
The whole process begins with a stop or an arrest by the police. A stop is not as formal as an arrest. A police officer will stop you to ask questions. They cannot stop you unless they have a reasonable belief you violated the law. What is a valid “reasonable suspicion”? There are a million cases answering that question and Attorney Charles Johnson will be able to give you many examples during your free consultation.
However, keep in mind that you always have the right to remain silent, even if you are just stopped and questioned. You do not have to answer any questions from the police at any time. In fact, everyone should know their constitutional rights regarding criminal law.
If you are in a vehicle, the police officer may ask to search it. The police cannot search your vehicle unless they have “probable cause”, or you consent. They may seek your consent because they do not quite have “probable cause.” You do not have to give your consent to a search of your car. They may search your car later, but your lawyer can then challenge the probable cause the police officer asserted as a reason to search the car. If you give your consent, the police do not need any other reason to search your car, and your lawyer will have much less to challenge in court.
“Probable cause” is more serious than “reasonable suspicion”, but there are a million cases explaining it too and Attorney Johnson will explain those during your consultation. You cannot challenge a police officer’s assertion of probable cause until later, in court. Again, let your lawyer handle that question later.
Generally, a police officer can arrest you if they have probable cause to believe you committed a crime, or if there is a warrant out for your arrest. If a stop and search lead to an arrest, you should not resist it. If it is not valid, you will want to do so, but you cannot legally challenge it until later. Resisting arrest is a crime itself. The best advice if you are arrested is to be calm, be silent, and demand a lawyer before they ask you any questions.
After being arrested, the officer will “book” you. This is the process where they take your fingerprints, get your mug shot, do a background check, and ask you questions. Remember, you have the right to remain silent and the right to demand an attorney. You do not have to answer questions. They are not going to let you out of jail even if you answer all their questions. Just be calm, be silent, and let your lawyer deal with things later. That is the best you can do.
The charge comes from the prosecutor, not the police. The victim does not get to charge you, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t get to drop the charges either. The prosecutor will often take into account the wishes of the victim, but they do not have to. You are in the hands of the state after being arrested. They cannot hold you indefinitely, however. You must be charged with a crime within a certain limited amount of time or they must release you.
This is where the Judge or Magistrate will formally read your charges and inform you of your rights. You should have asserted your right to a lawyer before now. If not, do so at this time. If you are asked how to plea, and you do not have an attorney, you should say “not guilty.”
The Magistrate will decide on whether or not you should be released, and if so, how much your bail should be. Bail is the amount of money you, or someone else, must post with the court so they can be sure you will reappear. If you do not, your bond will be forfeited, and the county gets it.
If bail is set, someone must post it for you or hire a bail bondsman to do so. If you hire a bail bondsman, and you run off, the bondsman loses the bail money to the court. If that happens, they send someone after you – a bounty hunter. Plus, there will be a warrant out for your arrest. Sometimes you will be released on your own “recognizance”, which just means there is no bail. But you are now in the system and will have to appear for further proceedings.
Discovery is a pre-trial process where the prosecutor must give certain information to your attorney. Your attorney gets to see all the evidence against you well before trial. There are no secret, last minute witnesses allowed.
This is the best reason to remain silent, not give your consent to a search, and demand an attorney if you are arrested. Your attorney can make any number of pre-trial motions. They usually ask the Court to exclude certain evidence from trial if it was gained in an illegal or impermissible manner. It is hard to suppress evidence if you spoke voluntarily or gave consent to a search.
This is a fancy word for negotiations. If the two sides reach an agreement, you will usually have to plea guilty to one or more of the charges to get the deal which has been reached. This involves going to court, answering some questions from the Judge, and telling the court on the record that you are guilty to the charge agreed upon by your attorney and the prosecutor.
If the prosecutor and your attorney cannot reach an agreement on a plea bargain, you will usually go to trial. Trial is where the government must put on evidence that you committed a crime, usually including producing witnesses live in court to testify. You do not have to testify. You do not have to put on any evidence whatsoever. The government must prove its case, and it must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you are found guilty, or if you enter a plea of guilty based on a plea bargain, you will be sentenced by the Court. The Judge will decide on the proper punishment. This can be anything from probation to active jail time. There are guidelines that apply and give the Judge a general range of punishment options.
Your attorney can do a lot for you at sentencing, including making sure all the procedures are followed, arguing for lesser guidelines, and arguing circumstances which would allow the Judge to sentence you to less than that called for in the guidelines. Also, an attorney can help you before sentencing by telling you what actions you can take the make the Judge more likely to be lenient on you. For instance, if you are charged with drunk driving, and take a class or go to rehab, the Judge may take that into consideration when sentencing you.
Austin Criminal Defense: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
I have tried to give you a good overview of the criminal process, with some tips on how best to handle things at each stage. But I must repeat my first and most important advice here: call the Charles Johnson Law Firm anytime a criminal charge is made against you. It is no joke, and you could lose your rights, your money, and your freedom.
Remember, Attorney Charles Johnson offers a free consultation for anyone charged with a crime. You should take advantage of that free time with a lawyer to better understand the exact nature of your situation, and what is likely to happen to you at trial or sentencing.