What to Do if You Are Accused of A Crime
Sept. 3, 2011
If accused of a crime, either a misdemeanor or felony, you must consult with an attorney as soon thereafter as possible. If you have access to a cell phone or the Internet, you will not be far from a lawyer.
Get an Attorney. This is the first step to protecting your rights. You are guaranteed a lawyer by our federal and state constitutions; the question is, who will represent you?
If you elect to go with a court-appointed attorney, you just will not know about the quality of that attorney until it is too late. Some, not all, court appointed attorneys are overworked, inexperienced or both; they are gaining their experience on your watch. This could be a good thing. Others are apathetic; these are the worst kind of publicly appointed lawyers because they will not fight for your rights or file the proper motions (i.e. motion to supress evidence, motion to quash the information and dismiss the case, motion to reduce bond, etc…) It is a well known fact that Michigan is among the worst states in compensation for court-appointed attorneys. Attorney adage: if you are any good, don’t waste time taking low-paying public defender appointments.
Retained counsel is often a better way to go. But whom do you hire among the maize of attorneys out there? Do some research on the Internet. A good web site for this is Avvo.com; this site profiles lawyers and doctors. Lawyers showcase their accomplishments in a format that is easy to search and access. Also, the lawyers are rated by Avvo so you can see who has sufficient experience in your area.
Your Preliminary Examination. Once you are arraigned on a felony in the district (or local municipal) court, this is the first step in the criminal process where you make a strategic decision. If I have a client who thinks we will take his defense to a jury trial, I always hold the preliminary exam.
A preliminary examination is a right defendants have created by a Michigan statute. The district court must listen to evidence presented by the prosecutor to determine whether there is probable cause that the accused has committed a felony. If so, the case is “bound over” to the trial court. If not, the case is dismissed.
Apathetic jaded attorneys see so many of their clients get bound over to the trial court, they begin to lose focus on the reasons for holding an exam. These reasons include: 1) forcing the government to establish probable cause; 2) you will learn something about the prosecutor’s case against you; 3) you will have the opportunity to see some (not all) of the witnesses the government has arrayed against you; 4) you have the constitutional right to confront these witnesses through your attorney’s cross-examination; and 5) all testimony taken at your exam will be available in a transcript from which you can further prepare your defense.
Adjusting Bond. If you are bound over by the district judge, and you are incarcerated, you will want to adjust your bond so you can get out of jail in order to better prepare your defense. Bond is designed to ensure the accused’s appearance at all future court dates as well as to protect the public. A judge will consider several factors when deciding on your bond, such as: a) the seriousness of the offense charged; b) your prior record; c) your track record of showing up on the case; d) substance abuse issues.
A court has the option of setting a personal recognizance bond, (meaning that you don’t have to post any money), a cash bond requiring that you post the amount of the bond to get out of jail; a surety bond (you must secure the bond through a licensed bondsman who pledges the bond in exchange for some collateral that you or a friend or family member pledges as security); a 10% bond (meaning you only need to post 10 percent of the bond amount, but the court collects this sum at the end of your case; you do not get it back).
In addition to the amount and type of bond, a court can set myriad conditions on the bond such as no alcohol or illegal drugs, home confinement, no contact with the alleged victims.
These are just some of the preliminary matters that come up in every criminal case. Stay tuned for more detailed guides dealing the the nuts and bolts of a criminal jury trial.