Got Crime? Some Common Questions Answered.

March 26, 2010

Attorneys are often unable to give detailed answers prior to discussing the facts of a case and reviewing the evidence. All too often, potential clients want answers to questions that I can’t yet answer. That said, below are common criminal law questions I receive and corresponding answers:

Q. Should I Make a Statement to the Police?
A. No!!! If you are under investigation or are arrested, do not make any statements to the police. Although you may feel like you can present your side of the story, often anything you say will be used against you. Do not volunteer information or discuss the facts of the case with anyone other than your attorney.

Q. What is a Search Warrant?
A. A search warrant is a court order authorizing the search of a specific place for certain items and to seize them if found. Your Fourth Amendment rights guarantee that a search warrant may only be issued on oath or affirmation that a crime was probably committed. Evidence obtained without the proper search warrant, may be excluded by the court upon motion and hearing filed by a defendant.

Q. What is Bail?
A. Bail refers to a defendants release from jail upon the proper deposit of money or property securing his future appearance in court. Its purpose is to ensure that the defendant appears in court and does not flee from the jurisdiction. The amount of bail required to secure a defendants release depends on the nature of the offense and is governed by various California Penal Code statutes.

Q. What is an Arraignment?
A. This generally refers to a defendant’s first appearance before a judge wherein he is informed of the charges and is afforded the opportunity to enter a plea. The time of the Arraignment often depends on the nature of the charges against a defendant and whether he is in our out of custody. The Arraignment is a crucial step because defendant’s counsel will usually only then be provided with documents, police reports and other evidence of the charges against his client.

Q. What is a Preliminary Hearing?
A. When a felony case is brought against a defendant, he is entitled a hearing with the ability to confront witnesses and conduct cross-examination. The purpose of this hearing is to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed further with the case against the defendant. Although the prosecution’s burden to move beyond the preliminary hearing stage is quite low, the hearing serves an important function by weeding out groundless or unsubstantiated charges against the defendant. Since the preliminary hearing provides the opportunity to determine the facts and evidence, it is important to have counsel effectively question witnesses and ascertain the evidence against his client.

Q. What is a Pre-Trial Conference?
A. At a pre-trail conference your attorney has the opportunity to continue negotiations with the prosecutor in an attempt to reach a favorable disposition. It is at this stage that your attorney may be able to work out the best plea bargain for you.

Q. What is an Expungment?
A. An Expungment refers to the cleansing or removal of one’s criminal record. This often doesn’t have the results the some may think, but may be worthwhile especially for employment purposes. Many but not all misdemeanors and felonies maybe expunged.

Q. What are My Chances?
A. A case depends on many factors which require a thorough and detailed evaluation. Although an experienced and capable attorney can discuss various aspects of a case in detail, often a complete analysis cannot be achieved until the attorney has access to all relevant documents and witnesses. If an attorney guarantees you a certain result or outcome, or fails to conduct a full investigation, seek the assistance of another attorney immediately.