FAQs for Your First Time Being Accused of a Crime
FAQs for Your First Time Being Accused of a Crime
I’ve been charged with a crime. What do I do?
The first time you are arrested or charged with a crime can be a frightening and confusing experience. It is important to keep your wits about you, however, as the actions you take immediately after your arrest can have a major impact on your case and your future.
If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to:
Remember Your Rights
You have the right to remain silent, to contact an attorney and to combat the charges against you. Remembering these rights immediately after your arrest can mean the difference between a conviction and a more favorable resolution to your case. If you have been arrested, do not offer law enforcement any answers or information. Instead, remain silent until you have legal counsel.
Consult an Attorney Immediately
Your first call after an arrest for a DWI, misdemeanor or felony offense should be to an experienced defense attorney. By getting a lawyer involved in your case as quickly as possible, you greatly improve your chances of avoiding a conviction and reduce your chances of incriminating yourself when speaking to police.
Police keep asking me questions. Should I answer them?
During an investigation and after an arrest, law enforcement officers will continually dig for information and evidence they can use to build a case. If you are under investigation or have been arrested for a crime, politely decline to answer any questions officers may ask, no matter how innocent or trivial the questions may seem. Only when you have an attorney present to advise you should you speak to authorities.
How do I get bail or bond?
If you are incarcerated before trial, you have a right to seek bail or bond, it means you have the opportunity to be released from jail to await your trial or criminal proceedings. In Virginia, there are three main forms of bail or bond, including:
A judge may order your release on an Personal Recognizance (PR) bond. This simply means that the court is trusting you to appear for all hearings and aspects of your criminal proceedings. If you have been granted an OR bond, you simply need to sign a paper with the court stating your intention to return for trial. OR bonds are issued most commonly in lesser offenses.
If a judge sets a cash bail, you or a family member must pay the total amount before your release. For example, a judge may set cash bail at $5000 – you must post this amount before your release. In most cases, the funds posted for a cash bail are returned 60-90 days following the completion of your criminal proceedings. If you do not appear at all hearings, the money is forfeited to the court.
If you cannot afford to post a cash bond you may request a surety bond from an authorized bail agent. The bail agent will assess your case and history before deciding to issue the surety bond. If the agent agrees, they post the full bond amount on your behalf. Most bail agents charge a fee equal to 10 percent of the bond, plus administrative costs. If you fail to appear for your hearings, the bail agent is authorized to actively seek your return to jail and may cancel the surety bond.
How much will this cost?
The costs of combating a criminal charge vary significantly from case to case. An individual charged with DWI will often spend less to traverse the criminal process than an individual charged with a more serious felony offense.
While it is difficult to put an exact figure on the cost of defense representation, it is safe to say that legal fees are often outweighed by the penalties stemming from a conviction. Fines and court fees quickly add up. Jail time can cost you your job, your marriage and your friends. Lengthy probation periods can cost thousands of dollars in fees and time.
In truth, the cost of quality legal representation is likely far more affordable than the costs of a conviction, both in the short and long terms.
How does the court process work?
While the court process is different for every case and criminal offense, the process generally involves several steps, including:
Following your arrest and release from jail on bond, you may be required to appear at an arraignment hearing. During this arraignment hearing, the judge formally reads the charges to you. They may discuss whether you qualify for a public defender. Finally, you will be issued a trial date (misdemeanor offenses) or preliminary hearing date (felony offenses). It is highly advisable to retain an attorney prior to the arraignment hearing, as many times the hearing will be waived if you have already hired an attorney. If you fail to appear as ordered, a warrant for your arrest will be issued and new charges may be filed against you.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, you will be issued a trial date at your arraignment hearing or when you are first charged. Prior to the actual trial, your attorney will negotiate a plea deal. If you want to fight the charge, your attorney will instead prepare your case for court. Trial dates are often rescheduled depending on plea negotiations, evidentiary reviews and the court’s schedule.
During the preliminary hearing for a felony offense, your situation is reviewed to determine if there is probable cause to proceed with the case against you. If probable cause is found, your case will be sent to the Grand Jury.
A Grand Jury will review evidence in your case to determine if there is probable cause to carry the charges against you. If probable cause is found, an indictment is issued and a date is set for your trial.
From start to finish, the process can take anywhere from a month to years to fully resolve. A plea agreement may end the legal process before any of these steps, however. The assistance of an experienced defense lawyer may streamline the process and increase your chances of a favorable resolution.
This is my first offense. Do I need an attorney?
Many people charged with crimes often downplay their significance, especially first offenses or “less serious” charges like shoplifting or DWI. Individuals will sometimes believe that it will be easy for them to explain a simple misunderstanding to the judge and have everything work out. The reality is that unless you know the rules and what to expect it is very easy to make a situation worse. In all reality, any criminal conviction, even your first, has the potential to wreak havoc on your life for years to come.
With potential penalties ranging from fines to jail time, attempting to address criminal charges without the guidance of an experienced attorney is ill-advised. Discussing your charges, the potential penalties and your defense options with an attorney is a good first step following an arrest.
The Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall offers attorney consultations to give you the opportunity to discuss your case without obligation. Contact our team online or call 703-934-0101 to schedule your initial consultation today.