I'm Charged With a Crime! What Can an Attorney Do For Me?
Being charged with a crime is no fun. Your life and liberty are at stake. It can affect your reputation. Fortunately, there are things an attorney can do to help you mitigate the consequences. The following is a brief look at the criminal process, what you can likely expect, and what an attorney can help you with.
What Happens at a First Appearance?
The purpose of a first appearance is relatively simple. You'll be advised of your charges, your rights, and be given conditions of release/bail. You'll also be advised of your right to have an attorney, to include a granting of continuance to consult with counsel if necessary.
Depending on jurisdictional practice and/or strategy and preference, either a Rule 8 hearing (second appearance) will be scheduled, or the Rule 8 will be consolidated with the initial appearance and a Rule 11 Omnibus hearing will be scheduled. For a misdemeanor offense, you can possibly waive your first appearance and schedule out for a pre-trial, which is the misdemeanor equivalent of an omnibus.
An attorney at this stage can help you secure a lower and more reasonable bail amount than the state may be requesting. An attorney can also help you fight back against restrictive release conditions.
What Happens at an Omnibus Hearing/Pre-Trial?
By this stage, most if not all discovery should have taken place. A good defense attorney will comb through the material given by the state and find potential weaknesses, along with any evidence to challenge. Did the police wrongfully stop or seize you? Did the police wrongfully search you? Did the police search your house without a warrant? Did the police question you in custody without a Miranda warning? Etc. Defense can then make an argument to the court to throw out wrongfully obtained evidence or potentially dismiss the charges.
Also, at this stage, often the defense and prosecution will attempt to work out a plea deal, though acceptance of any deal is completely in the hands of a client. I can only advise you on the strengths and weaknesses of any plea deal offered.
If no plea arrangement is reached, then you have the right to a trial. A trial is generally in front of a jury, but can also be in front of a judge if you want. A good defense attorney will help secure a more sympathetic jury panel, cross-examine state witnesses efficiently, present evidence on your behalf, and convince a jury to find you not-guilty on some or all charges you face.
Should you plead guilty or be found guilty at trial, not all is over. A good defense attorney can still argue that your sentence should be lighter than what the State seeks. Sentencing is generally done within a set of guidelines, called the Sentencing Guidelines. However, there are situations and circumstances where a judge can depart from those guidelines. A defense attorney can attempt to seek probation rather than jail/prison time, less time than what the guidelines call for, etc.