I am charged with a misdemeanor offense and have no prior criminal history.
Do I need an attorney to represent me?
Yes. A misdemeanor offense carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. There are also other possible consequences of a misdemeanor conviction including drivers’ licensing consequences (if it was a driving offense), professional licensing consequences (for example for assaults and those working in the childcare or health care professions), immigration consequences for people who are not U.S. citizens and school suspension or expulsion. It is critical that you have a lawyer represent you who will work to keep a criminal conviction off of your record, prevent you from going to jail and who can also handle the possible collateral consequences of your case.
What are the differences between a misdemeanor and felony charge?
A misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Felony charges carry higher maximum penalties depending on whether the felony is a Class A (most serious), Class B or Class C felony offense. Misdemeanor cases are usually charged in a Municipal Court in the city in which the offense allegedly occurred. Sometimes they are charged in a District Court in the county where the offense allegedly occurred. State felonies are charged in the Superior Court in the county where the offense allegedly occurred.
What are the differences between a state and federal case?
Many crimes are ones that could be charged in either state or federal court. For example, most drug and fraud cases could be charged in either jurisdiction. The cases charged in federal court have an element that gives the federal court jurisdiction over the case, such as the interstate transportation of drugs or money. State felony cases are charged in Superior Court in the county in which the felony allegedly occurred.
How Are Juvenile and Adult cases handled differently?
Juveniles under eighteen years old are generally prosecuted in Juvenile Court. Juveniles are usually detained and serve their custodial sentences in facilities that do not house adults. An exception to this is for some juvenile offenders who are sixteen or seventeen (depending on the offense) and are accused of certain serious felony offenses, some of these cases are prosecuted outside the juvenile system. Juvenile court is more geared toward rehabilitation than punishment and the Court is often more focused on addressing mental health or substance abuse problems and making sure the juvenile is regularly attending school, than imposing custodial sentences.
What makes the charge I am facing a “domestic violence” offense?
Cases are charged as “domestic violence” offenses because the allegation involves people (the accused and the alleged victim) who are family members or who are or used to be married, domestic partners, dating or living together.
The allegation in my case is completely fabricated and there is no real evidence against me, the police never heard my side of the story. Under these circumstances, why have I been charged with a crime and how do I defend myself?
When someone makes an accusation, their statement to the police is considered evidence and may provide a basis for the prosecutor to decide to file charges. The police do not have to get your side of the story before they make a decision about whether to make a report and refer the case to the prosecutor’s office for the filing of charges. Many cases proceed to trial simply based on a person’s testimony that a crime occurred. It is up to your lawyer to point out the problems and weaknesses in such a case to the prosecutor (or at trial, to a jury). It is also your lawyer’s job to get your version of events and find out if there is information that can be obtained to verify your version of what happened. Your lawyer can point out that there is no evidence to corroborate the complaining witness’ story and can also come up with ways to call into question the credibility of that witness. With diligent work and investigation, your lawyer may be able to persuade the prosecutor to dismiss your case.
Do I need an attorney to represent me in a protection order or anti-harassment order case?
A lawyer is not required in these proceedings, but it can make a critical difference in the outcome to have representation. Many people represent themselves in these civil proceedings. The petitioner files a document explaining why a protection/anti-harassment order is needed and the respondent must defend against those accusations and explain why it is not appropriate for the Court to issue such an order. It is extremely important that a respondent defend him or herself against a baseless petition for an order of this kind, because once an order is in place, an allegation that the order has been violated is a criminal offense. These cases often arise after a long history of acrimony between two parties or alongside a family law case or criminal allegation. It can be difficult to figure out what documents to provide to the Court and which events in a long history are most relevant. It can be very effective to have a lawyer represent you either as the petitioner or the respondent. Your lawyer can digest and organize the important facts in a way that the Court can understand why the petition should (or should not) be granted and determine which supporting documentation is most compelling and should be provided to the Court.
How much will you charge to represent me?
Every case is different. I do a consultation with each client who hires me so that I can understand what kind of case it is and what the scope of representation will be. For all but a few types of cases, I bill hourly for my time and make an agreement with the client that he or she will deposit a certain amount of money in my trust account at the beginning of the case. I keep track of all the time I spend working on the case and bill periodically, paying the invoices from the trust account. The client and I agree that certain minimum balances will be kept in the trust account so that bills can always be paid from funds in trust. Any funds left over at the end of the case will be refunded when all work on the case has been completed.