Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Defense

What Are My Rights At Arrest?

Some of the best known statements of an individual's rights, at least in the context of criminal proceedings, are contained in the MIRANDA WARNING. These are familiar (although perhaps not fully understood) to generations of people who have heard them invoked in countless police movies and television shows.

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to talk to a lawyer and to have him present with you while you are being questioned.
  • If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you want one.
  • You have the right to stop answering questions or giving a statement any time you wish, and you do not have to give a reason. You also have the right to demand a lawyer during the giving of a statement or the answering of questions and may stop until he arrives. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you.

If you are ever given your Miranda warnings by a police officer:

  • Ask for a lawyer.
  • Control yourself and stay calm.
  • Do not resist or touch any officer.
  • Don't argue with or threaten the officers.
  • Ask if you are under arrest or if you can leave now. If you are told that you can leave, LEAVE and then call an attorney.
  • If you are told that you are under arrest, ask what you are being charged with.
  • Tell the police your name and address.
  • If the officers conduct a search, do not resist or interfere, but state that you do not consent to the search.
  • If the officers state that they have a search warrant, ask for a copy.
  • Do not make any statements, orally or in writing, regarding the circumstances that resulted in you being given your Miranda warnings, until you have had the opportunity to speak with an attorney who is representing your interests.
  • Do not give any explanations or make excuses.
  • Remember that anything you say or do can be used against you in a court of law.

When Can An Officer Conduct A Search?

An officer always may only make a search with either your consent or a search warrant. You have a right, however, to see the warrant before the search begins.

What Does An O.R. Release Mean? ( back to top)

Instead of paying bail, you might be released on your own recognizance or O.R. (or supervised O.R.). This means that you do not have to pay bail because the judge believes you will show up for court appearances without bail.

If you qualify you will not have to spend the 10 percent of your bail fee or post your property to secure your bail bond.


What Happens At An Arraignment? ( back to top)

You have a right to be arraigned without unnecessary delay after being arrested. You will appear before a judge who will tell you officially of the charges against you at your arraignment. At the arraignment, bail can be raised or lowered. You also can ask to be released on O.R., even if bail was previously set.


What Happens At A Pretrial Hearing? ( back to top)

This involves a meeting between the prosecution and defense. Topics discussed include plea bargain opportunities, strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution's case, pretrial motions and intangible factors of the case, such as the defendant's character and past history.

If your decision is to take your case to trial, the court will set a trial date. If you enter into a plea bargain/sentencing recommendation it will happen at this hearing. If you decide to change your plea, in some cases your case will be set for a separate sentencing hearing and the court will order you to participate in a presentence investigation prior to the sentencing hearing. The presentence investigation is essentially an in-depth background check that will be presented to the court and can be very influential in the court's determination of its sentence.


What Should I Wear To A Hearing? ( back to top)

You are required to appear at all scheduled hearings. Remember to dress appropriately. Please wear a suit, pants with a shirt and jacket, or pants with a shirt, and professional dress for women. Please do not wear sunglasses, a baseball cap or shorts. When going to court, dress and act like you would when applying for a job or attending a funeral.


What Does It Mean To Prove Guilt 'Beyond A Reasonable Doubt?' ( back to top)

The prosecutor must convince the judge or jury hearing the case that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard is very hard to meet. (By contrast, in noncriminal cases, such as an accident or breach of contract, a plaintiff has to prove her case only by a preponderance of the evidence — just over 50 percent.) As a practical matter, the high burden of proof in criminal cases means that judges and jurors are supposed to resolve all doubts about the meaning of the evidence in favor of the defendant. With such a high standard imposed on the prosecutor, a defendant's most common defense is often to argue that there is reasonable doubt, i.e., that the prosecutor hasn't done a sufficient job of proving that the defendant is guilty.


Why Do I Need An Attorney? ( back to top)

As with all things in life, there are benefits and costs associated with hiring an attorney. Only you can make the decision that the benefits to you are greater than the cost of hiring an attorney. Among the factors you should consider in deciding whether to hire an attorney to represent you are the results you would like to end up with, whether you are familiar with the constitutional, statutory and case law provisions that control your matter, whether you are familiar with the rules governing evidence and court procedure. Each of these areas often requires a combination of specialized knowledge and experience to achieve the best result possible.

Does Hiring An Attorney Guarantee Me The Result I Want? ( back to top)

No. A lawyer can provide you with conscientious, competent and diligent services and at all times seek to achieve solutions, which are just and reasonable for you. However, because of the uncertainty of legal proceedings, the interpretation and changes in the law, and many other factors, no lawyer can or should warrant, predict or guarantee results or the final outcome of your case or any portion of your case.


Please contact Laura Helmbrecht to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.