What happens when I’m suspected of committing a crime?

If the police believe that you have committed a crime, you may be arrested at the time of the alleged offense, as in most OUI cases, or cases of alleged domestic violence where the police respond to a 911 call. In that case, after you are processed (“booked”), the police will contact the on-call bail clerk, who will make a bail determination based on your record and the circumstances of the alleged offense. If you are able to call someone who can post your bail (plus a $40.00 added fee), then you will be released to appear the next morning in court. Note that if you are deemed intoxicated, or domestic violence is alleged, there may be a delay of several hours before you can be released.

If you were not arrested, but the police go to the courthouse and convince the clerk magistrate that there is probable cause to charge you with a crime, then you will either be summonsed, or a warrant will issue for your arrest. For the most part, whether you are summonsed (simply informed of your upcoming court date, and ordered to be there) or a warrant issues for your arrest, depends on whether you have a history of failing to appear for court hearings, and to a lesser degree on the severity and type of charges.

If you were not arrested, then depending on the charge or charges, you may be entitled to a preliminary hearing before a magistrate, in which the issue to be decided is whether there is probable cause to actually charge you with criminal behavior.

If a felony or certain other charges are involved, or if you were arrested, then your first hearing will be an arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be interviewed by the probation department, your charges will be read to you in open court, you will be asked what you intend to do about a lawyer, and you will be given a date to come back for a pretrial hearing. In addition, the prosecutor will be given a chance to request that bail be set in your case. You or your lawyer will have a chance to argue that you should be released without having to post bail, or after posting a small amount of bail. There are a number of statutory bail factors that a judge must consider in setting bail. The judge also has discretion to set “conditions of release” if you are not held on bail. Typical conditions include staying away from the alleged victim, refraining from illegal drugs and/or alcohol (with random screening at the courthouse), and not getting into further difficulties with the law.

If the police believe that children were present or somehow affected by the criminal conduct, they will file a 51a report with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which will then begin an assessment of the allegations.

Should I speak with the police, and if I do, are they legally obligated to be truthful with me?

Any lawyer worth his salt will tell the suspect in no uncertain terms to make no statement to police under any circumstances.” Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49 (1949). Not the least of the reasons for this is that the police generally do not have to be truthful with you during questioning. The police are trained in interrogation, and lying to the person being interrogated is a very effective interrogation tactic.

If the police want to talk with you, they apparently suspect that you have committed a crime. And if they have arrested you, it’s because they already have enough evidence to charge you and they want to see if you will give them additional evidence to use against you. Remember, anything you say can and will be used against you.

In addition, keep in mind that the police cannot make you a deal. Only the prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office (in state court proceedings) can make you a deal. And you should have a lawyer negotiate any such deal.

Finally, once you make a statement to the police, it is forever recorded, and then any small variation in your story several months later, even an innocent one, can be used to suggest to a jury that you are “lying now or lying then.”

Again, you should not speak with the police.

Do I really need a lawyer, or should I represent myself in my criminal case?

Without the proper education, training and experience, defending a criminal case is very risky. Without the experience, you will not likely know whether any plea bargain being offered by the prosecution is a “good deal” under your particular circumstances. Without the education and training, you will likely find it next to impossible to competently conduct your own trial. And since the prosecutor knows that you will be unable to take your case to trial if push comes to shove, the likelihood of your receiving a lenient offer is diminished. Moreover, even if you had the education, training and experience, it would still usually not be wise to represent yourself. Most lawyers would never consider representing themselves. As Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States once said, “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

I recently got a speeding ticket or other civil motor vehicle citation. Is it worth hiring a lawyer to appeal it?

Successfully appealing a ticket can save you money over the six-year surcharge period, potentially saving you a significant sum of money over the long run. In addition, if you have a recent history of moving violations, then successfully appealing a ticket can help you avoid a license loss for being a Habitual Traffic Offender.

As set forth on citations themselves, drivers generally have 20 days from the date the civil motor vehicle ticket was issued to request an appeal before a clerk magistrate. There is a now a $25.00 fee to request such an appeal. A short time after you mail in your appeal, you will receive notice of your court date at the applicable District Court.

It is often possible to have a fine reduced, or for the operator to be found “not responsible” by the magistrate. An attorney with experience in the courtroom will know the types of information to elicit from you, and will know the correct arguments to make before the magistrate. The officer who pulled you over need not be present at the magistrate’s hearing.

Should you wish to pursue an appeal of the magistrate’s decision, you have redress before the District Court judge upon paying an additional fee to the court. At this hearing, the officer who issued the citation must appear and testify under oath against you.

What are some of the consequences of pleading guilty?

The first consequence is the moral condemnation and stigmatizing effect of a criminal conviction. The conviction represents that you have broken the pact of the community to obey the laws for the benefit of all. It also conclusively establishes that you in fact actually did what you were charged with. You will never be allowed to argue before a court or other tribunal that you “just plead guilty to get a good deal.”

Some other potential consequences include loss of license for many charges (including operating under the influence of alcohol, drug possession, and even “tagging” with spray paint), being placed on probation with conditions such as periodic reporting to your probation officer or drug and alcohol testing, receiving a suspended sentence, or being sent to a term of incarceration. Some charges have immigration consequences (and in this area something less than a guilty plea may still result in removal from the US), and a guilty finding on some charges would require that one register with the Sex Offender Registry Board.

If you are charged with domestic violence, even a continuance without a finding (CWOF) will typically result in your being ordered to attend and complete (and pay for) 40 weeks of the Certified Batterer’s Intervention Program.

Unless you are able to get your record sealed sometime in the future, there will be a record of your conviction for the rest of your life. It may also be reported in the newspaper, or online.