Life is stressful enough, but if you are facing a criminal charge, you are in an especially difficult situation. Regardless of the kind of charge that has been levied against you, taking the matter seriously from the outset is essential. The sooner you consult with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney, the better prepared you will be to successfully defend yourself against the criminal charge in question.
If You Are Arrested
If you are arrested and charged with a crime, you should be read your Miranda rights, which refer to your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present. The law begins with these matters because they represent your primary rights – rights that you should not lose sight of along the way. It is in your best interest to refrain from speaking to the arresting officer and to refrain from answering any questions until you have the skilled guidance of a dedicated criminal defense attorney on your side.
Generally, arrests begin with being handcuffed and taken to jail – where you will be processed, which means being entered into the jail computer system and being fingerprinted and photographed. Your personal belongings will also be confiscated, and in return, you will receive a voucher that lists the items that were taken from you. While you will be required to provide basic identifying information about yourself at the time of your arrest, providing information beyond this is not advised.
Why You Were Arrested
Arrests are based on arresting officers having probable cause to make them. This means that if you are arrested, the arresting officer believes that you likely committed a crime. For example, if you are pulled over for exceeding the speed limit, and the officer who pulls you over has reason to believe that you are under the influence of alcohol, you may be arrested. In some instances, however, arrests are not made in the moment but are made after a court issues a warrant.
The Interrogation Process
You may be questioned either before or after being arrested, but your right to remain silent holds regardless. Anything you do say can ultimately be used against you, and you can count on the officers who question you to be skilled at eliciting the kinds of statements they want to hear. If you are being questioned in relation to a crime, the best policy is to let the officers doing the questioning know that you are invoking your right to remain silent and that you want an attorney. From here, you should stick to your guns and remain silent. At this point, the interrogation should end.
Once You Have an Attorney
Once you have a savvy criminal defense attorney in your corner, he or she will help skillfully guide you through the process in all the following ways:
By letting you know what to expect as your case proceeds
By helping you make the right decisions for yourself along the way
By building your strongest defense (in accordance with the evidence and circumstances involved)
By speaking knowledgeably on your behalf
By communicating with the prosecution and supporting your best options moving forward, including requesting that charges be dropped or by making a plea deal
By strategically filing motions on your behalf
After being arrested and booked into the system, the prosecutor must decide whether or not to formally charge you with a crime. If you are charged, you have the right to an arraignment, which is a court hearing before a judge (called a magistrate) that must be held within a specified time frame after your arrest. Your arraignment represents your constitutional right to hear the charges brought against you (as protected by the Sixth Amendment). Your arraignment is the first stage of the criminal process, and it amounts to a pretrial hearing in which you will be formally charged – regardless of whether the charge in question is a misdemeanor or a felony. At your arraignment, you will answer to the charge brought against you by entering a plea, which is generally not guilty (and your trial date will be set). Other options (that are far less common) include:
When a defendant pleads guilty, he or she can be sentenced at arraignment.
When a defendant is mute (or says nothing), the judge enters a plea on his or her behalf.
When a defendant pleads no contest, he or she claims neither guilt nor innocence (but recognizes that there is likely enough evidence to convict)
A Not Guilty Plea
When you plead not guilty, you let the open court know that you did not commit the crime in question. After pleading not guilty, your trial date will be determined and bail set. Pleading not guilty allows you and your criminal defense attorney the time you need to build your strongest defense, and if you do make a plea deal as time progresses, your not guilty plea will not be translated as you lying to the court. You have a right to a robust defense, and this is your opportunity to pursue it.
A Guilty Plea
If you plead guilty, you admit to being guilty of the crime in question (addressed by the charge levied against you). Judges only accept guilty pleas when they are credible and considered valid. In other words, if the judge believes you were coerced into an admission of guilt by your arresting officer, by the officers who interrogated you, or by anyone else, he or she is unlikely to accept the plea of guilty. The judge will also discuss the matter with you to ensure that you understand your legal rights and the rights you will be relinquishing if you plead guilty. If you do, however, move forward with a plea of guilty, you will very likely be sentenced then and there. It is very unlikely that your criminal defense attorney will advise you to plead guilty. You have important legal rights that are worth protecting.
A Mute Plea
If you enter a mute plea, it means that you will remain silent at your arraignment, and your attorney will inform the court of your mute plea. The judge will then record your plea as not guilty. In highly specific circumstances, mute pleas are sometimes used strategically to plead not guilty while – in effect – denying that the criminal justice system proceeded in accordance with the law to this point. Again, it is highly unlikely that your knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will advise a mute plea.
A No Contest Plea
When you enter a plea of no contest, you do not admit to having committed the crime in question – but neither do you dispute the charges brought. No contest pleas are often reserved for instances in which there are corresponding civil trials involved.
If it is determined that there is enough evidence to charge you with the crime in question at your arraignment, the magistrate will set your trial date and may set bail. Bail is an amount of money required in order for you to be released from jail while your trial is pending. If you pay – or post – the bail, you will be released from custody, and if you do not, you will very likely remain in custody until your trial date. The intention of bail is to ensure that you return for your court date, and the factors that go into the determination of the bail amount include:
The charge itself
The court itself
The relevant circumstances
Sometimes, courts forgo bail and release defendants on their own personal recognizance (called PR release).
Bail is intended to ensure your appearance at future court dates. As such, if you post bail and miss your next court date, the money you posted is forfeited to the court system. When, on the other hand, your case is ultimately resolved and you appeared in court as necessary, your bail money will be returned to you. It is important to note that the judge in your case can include additional restrictions when setting your bail, including geographic restrictions that require you to remain within a limited area.
How Bail Is Posted
When it comes to posting bail, you have three basic options, including:
Cash – If you can afford to cover the full amount of your bail, you can pay the court outright.
Bail Bond – If you cannot afford to cover the full amount of your bail, which is not at all uncommon, you can seek bail bond services.
Property Bond – A property bond amounts to a lien being placed against a property that is owned by you (or by someone who offers the property on your behalf) and that covers the amount of your bond. Liens are often placed against one’s home.
While cash bail is common for less serious offenses, more severe charges require higher bails, and bail bonds are the most common mechanism employed. If you need bail bond services, the company will post bail on your behalf. In exchange, you will need to pay what is known as a bail premium, which generally amounts to 10 percent of the total bail and which will not be returned to you. After you appear at all your court dates, the amount of your bail will be returned to the bail bond company. If you fail to make any of your court appearances, however, the bail bond company will lose its money and can take legal action against you in its efforts to recoup its losses.
Is the Charge a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
How your case will proceed depends upon the kind of charge you face. In Texas, charges begin at the lowest end with traffic citations and move forward from there to misdemeanors and on to felonies, which are the most serious charges of all. It is important to note that there are also a few hybrid charges in the mix that lie outside the basic definitions.
Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, but this should not be interpreted to mean that they are not serious charges. You can still suffer serious consequences for misdemeanor criminal mischief charges. A conviction for a misdemeanor charge can have serious consequences, which makes proceeding with legal counsel on your side paramount. Misdemeanors are categorized into the following categories:
Class C Misdemeanor – A Class C misdemeanor is at the lowest end of the spectrum, and a conviction comes with up to $500 in fines but no jail time. Traffic citations generally fall into this category.
Class B Misdemeanor – A Class B misdemeanor conviction carries up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000 (two years of probation may also be an option). If you are a first-time offender, deferred adjudication (whereby you plead guilty or no contest, successfully complete what amounts to probation, and walk away with no criminal conviction) may be a possibility.
Class A Misdemeanor – A Class A misdemeanor can carry up to a year in jail and fines of up to $4,000 (two years of probation may, again, be an option). Sometimes, deferred adjudication is offered.
Felonies are more serious still, and while a conviction can begin with 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines (for a state jail felony), a first-degree felony conviction comes with up to $10,000 in fines and up to life in prison. A capital offense, on the other hand, can carry a death sentence.
You Need an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney in Your Corner
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Texas, bringing your strongest defense is critical. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a distinguished criminal defense attorney with a proven track record of helping clients like you prevail with advantageous case outcomes, and he is on your side. To learn more about what we can do to help you, please do not wait to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 today.