If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, your future hangs in the balance. What you do next could impact your life, both in the short-term and long-term. Reaching out to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can guide you through the confusing and complicated process of defending against criminal charges is critical to give you the best shot of success. You need a Laurens SC Criminal Defense Lawyer who will work aggressively to protect your rights, defend against unfair or untrue accusations and minimize any potential legal consequences.
Let’s start by exploring the typical steps in a criminal case:
Most people believe that a criminal case starts with an arrest, but that is often not the case, with investigations serving as the true beginning. Police officers begin by asking questions or requesting information, revealing that a person ha become the focus of an ongoing investigation. If this happens and you believe you have become a focus of a police investigation, it is a good idea to consider retaining a criminal defense attorney immediately so that you can react to charges as quickly as possible.
Anyone who has ever seen Law & Order knows what an arrest looks like. A person is placed in handcuffs, read their rights, and is taken to a police station to go through the booking process. During booking, you will have your fingerprints printed, a mug shot taken and likely be inspected by medical staff at the jail. After the booking process is complete you will eventually be transferred to Bond Court for a bond hearing.
Once in Bond Court, a suspect must, for the first time, appear before a judge. The point of a bond hearing is to decide whether the judge believes you deserve to be released from jail while your criminal case is pending. The judge will usually get only a quick glimpse of the facts of the case and the evidence that will be used against you. Your attorney and the prosecutors will also have a brief opportunity to argue about the merit of your release and what amount should be set if release is warranted.
It is important to understand that suspects have the right to an attorney during a bond hearing. Not only can you have an attorney, but you should. This is because a good lawyer can work to convince a judge to either lower your bond or release you without having to pay any bond, something that can result in your freedom being secured sooner and at less expense.
How does bond work?
The money paid to be secure your release from jail is called a bond and it can either be paid directly to the court, in which case it is refunded once the defendant has fulfilled the obligations of his or her bond, or by a bail bondsman. If a bondsman puts up the money, the company often charges a certain fee, between 10 and 15 percent of the face value of the bond. The bondsman will keep this fee even if you go to court as required. If you fail you attend your hearings as scheduled, then the bondsman will likely come after you as it is the only way for them to get the money they paid the court back.
All criminal defendants have the right to a preliminary hearing, an important stage in the process that is occasionally overlooked. These preliminary hearings need to be requested soon after the initial bond hearing, another reason why it is so important to hire a criminal defense attorney early. Preliminary hearing are important because they serve as a chance to listen to prosecutors lay out their case, often having to present crucial information about your charges and their evidence. A judge will then decide after hearing arguments whether the charges should be allowed to continue, whether the charges should be modified or whether the case should be dismissed.
Though most people are used to seeing trials on TV shows and movies, the reality is that the vast majority of criminal cases end in a plea bargain. Negotiation is an essential piece of any good criminal defense and it is critical that your attorney be skilled handling such complicated negotiations. Plea-bargaining is a process that requires prosecutors and defense attorneys to work together to agree on an appropriate punishment. The goal of both sides is to avoid heading to trial given the uncertainty of a court proceeding. For a deal to be successful, both sides have to feel like they are getting something from it. If a deal is reached, a suspect can end up walking away with much reduced penalties and avoid the risk of worse harm at trial.
Criminal defendants facing have the choice of facing a jury or a judge, what’s known as a bench trial. In a bench trial, a judge will decide the case. Many people opt for a jury trial, preferring to put their fate in the hands of a group of their peers. I
During the trial, each side puts forward its case, arguing for either guilt or innocence. The prosecution goes first and the defense follows at the end. When the arguments are all over, the case will be handed over to the jury to render a verdict. If the jury decides to acquit the defendant, then the case will be over and the defendant will be released from custody. If the jury decides that the defendant is guilty, sentencing will be the next step. The sentence ultimately handed down is at the discretion of the judge and usually falls somewhere between the ranges outlined in South Carolina criminal law statutes.
Thankfully, even those who lose their cases have the option of appealing. It is important to move quickly to be sure that you secure these rights, as there are important time limitations that can run out if you are not careful.
Difference between felony and misdemeanor charges
Beyond the criminal defense process and procedure, another important area to understand is the difference between the two major categories of criminal charges: misdemeanors and felonies. Without understanding this fundamental difference in the type of crime you were accused of, it can be hard to understand what might happen to you as the case moves forward.
The easiest way to understand the difference between misdemeanors and felonies is that misdemeanors are almost always less serious crimes with less severe penalties. For most misdemeanors, the maximum jail time possible is one year, while felonies are those crimes punished with more than one year behind bars.
Examples of misdemeanor crimes include things like drunk driving, shoplifting, petty theft or vandalism. Felony crimes include much more serious things such as murder, rape and armed robbery.
Why do you need a criminal defense lawyer?
Those who have been arrested for crimes may not fully understand how much trouble they are in, at least not until it’s too late. After all, you may think the charges are ridiculous and that any judge or jury will reach the same conclusion, releasing you once you’ve had a chance to explain things. Unfortunately, it does not always work this way. The court system is confusing, complex and can be used by those familiar with how it works to shut out those without the same depth of knowledge. That is why you need an advocate on your side who can go up against prosecutors and vigorously defend you. It is crucial to securing your freedom that you rely on a skilled attorney to prepare the best defense possible and then work to secure the best deal available. The risk of not doing so is simply too great.
What’s the difference between a private criminal defense attorney and a public defender?
Public defenders are attorneys who are appointed by judges to work for those without the financial resources to afford a private attorney. While public defenders are often smart, experienced and equally capable of defending a person’s rights, there are sometimes drawbacks that are worth mentioning. First, given the nature of the work it is often true that public defenders manage incredibly high case volumes. Constantly juggling dozens or even hundreds of cases can make it difficult to spend the time and energy focusing on each case the way you should. Though it isn’t the lawyer’s fault, no one wants to be the one case that fell through the cracks. Another issue worth considering is the overall outcome of the case. Studies have been done that indicate a difference in the result of cases handled by public defenders versus those handled by private defense attorneys. Though it is certainly true there are outliers, the results indicated that private defense attorneys were able to secure shorter prison terms for their clients, on average, than public defenders.
What if you think you can’t afford a criminal defense attorney?
A sad fact is that many people never hire private criminal defense attorneys because they are worried about the expense. They assume that all lawyers are equally expensive and never bother to look into the real costs. The reality is that while some lawyers may be prohibitively expensive, not all lawyers are. Lawyers, like any other service provider, charge different amounts. Some may be pricey, while many others charge reasonable rates and make accommodations that ordinary people can afford. Additionally, remember that you have the ability to shop around. Call different lawyers and ask about fees and estimates of total costs. Never close the door to an attorney without first bothering to look into it.
What if you’re guilty?
Some may decide it isn’t worth hiring an attorney because they are guilty, assuming that means they will automatically be convicted. The problem here is that these people have forgotten that the burden of proof lies on the government, not the accused. Individuals in the U.S. are innocent until prove guilty and you may be not guilty without even knowing it. For example, if your constitutional rights were violated at any point in the arrest or investigation process, you could have your case dismissed or certain key evidence suppressed. You may think you are guilty, but prosecutors may be unable to prove every aspect of your crime. Finally, even if there are no solid defenses, a criminal defense attorney can be invaluable in negotiating with prosecutors to reach the most fair deal possible, advocating on your behalf for leniency.
As a criminal defense attorney, you generally have to get comfortable being a jack-of-all-trades, handling matters across a wide spectrum of the legal system. The following are different categories of crimes and specific charges that fall under these categories.
Crimes against people:
- Sexual Assault
- Domestic violence
- Petty theft
- Grand theft
- Reckless driving
- Driving without a license
- Driving on a suspended license
- Expired tag
- Hit and run
Public order offenses:
- Disorderly conduct
- Public intoxication
- Indecent exposure
- Drug possession
- Possession with intent to sell
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Prescription drug fraud
- Passing a bad check
- Identity theft
If you, or someone you love has been charged with, or even investigated in relation to one of these crimes, call William G. Mayer, Attorney at Law today at 864-984-9202