Know Your Legal Rights
Our criminal justice system can be overwhelming and frightening. The incarceration rate in the United States is much higher than that of other industrialized countries. Prison sentences are getting longer and more frequent. If you face the possibility of being accused of a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early in the process as possible, preferably even before questioning or investigation by the police. A skilled attorney can fight for your legal and constitutional rights.
This blog and information on the website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.
You may be stopped for questioning by the police. A stop isn’t considered an arrest if you’re briefly detained and not moved to a different location. To maintain your legal rights when stopped by the police:
- Remain calm and polite. Keep your hands in view and don’t try to run away
- If you’re stopped when driving, show your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance if the officer asks for them
- You have the right to remain silent. It’s usually best to give your name, but tell the officer you’re exercising your right to remain silent if you don’t want to answer questions. Don’t lie to the police
- Ask the officer why you were stopped and if you’re under arrest
- You have the right to leave if you aren’t under arrest. If you are placed under arrest, you have the right to an attorney. Tell the police you wish to remain silent until you speak with your attorney
The police might ask if they can search you, your car or home. You can refuse to give consent to these searches. Officers can frisk you or pat down your clothing if they have a reason to suspect you have a weapon. In most other cases, the police must get a warrant to go ahead with a search.
A search warrant authorizes police to conduct a search of a specific place, such as your home or business. In order for a judge to issue a warrant, there must be probable cause.
Stages of a Criminal Case
During the investigation of a crime, the police review the facts, interview witnesses and gather evidence against suspect(s). Once the police have enough evidence, they can ask a judge to sign an arrest warrant for a suspect.
Arrest and Bail
After being arrested, a suspect will go before the judge, who will either set bail or decline to set any bail so that the suspect must remain in jail until the trial. Bail is an amount of money that the suspect must post so that he or she can get out of jail. The amount of bail depends on a number of factors including the severity of the crime the suspect is accused of, the strength of the prosecution’s case, whether the accused has a criminal history and whether the suspect is a flight risk. If the suspect shows up for future court dates, the bail money is returned. If, however, the suspect doesn’t show up or flees, the court will keep the money and issue an arrest warrant.
The accused first appears before the judge at an arraignment. At this proceeding, the judge informs the accused of the criminal charges against him or her, asks the accused whether he or she has an attorney or wants a court-appointed attorney, asks how the accused will plead to the charges, determines whether to modify the initial amount of bail and sets a schedule for future court dates.
In felony cases, a judge or magistrate will hold a preliminary hearing during which the prosecution must show that there is enough evidence supporting the charges against the defendant so that the case can proceed to the next stage. It is an adversarial proceeding and the defendant’s attorney has the right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. It is also sometimes called a “preliminary examination” or “probable cause hearing.”
Sometimes a criminal defendant and the prosecution can negotiate an agreement that resolves the criminal matter. Usually, the prosecutor agrees to reduce a charge, drop some of multiple charges or recommend a more lenient sentence in exchange for the defendant’s guilty plea, often to a lesser offense. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can be a real advantage to a criminal defendant throughout the plea-bargaining process.
Trial and Sentencing
At trial, the prosecutor and defense attorney will give opening and closing statements, introduce evidence and question witnesses. If a defendant is found guilty, the court will impose a sentence, which may include incarceration, fines, court costs, restitution and probation. For minor crimes, the sentence may be issued right away. For more serious crimes, the prosecution and defense will submit evidence and arguments about what the appropriate sentence should be. In some states, a judge will decide the sentence. In other states, sentencing is a completely separate from the trial, with a different jury determining the sentence. During this separate sentencing phase, the prosecution will present aggravating factors to argue for a harsher sentence and the defense will present mitigating factors in favor of a lesser sentence. Also, before the sentence is issued, the defendant has the right to allocution, which is when the defendant can address the judge directly. It may be a chance for the defendant to apologize, show remorse or explain his or her actions.
West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
Your attorney can assist you in deciding what course of action is best, depending upon your charges and other factors unique to your case. No two cases are the same.
When you retain the West Palm Beach law firm of Andrew D. Stine, P.A., you don’t simply retain a nationally recognized criminal defense lawyer. You retain a criminal defense team who has worked together for years and has successfully represented clients in virtually every type of criminal case.
Free consultation 24/7: Call West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer Andrew D. Stine, P.A. at (561) 832-1170. Se habla español.