Criminal defense: what you should know

Some comments about criminal defense and what you should know

Whether it is a misdemeanor offense or a felony, a person charged with a crime, who cannot qualify for a public defender has got to be intelligent about how to handle the situation. It is absolutely true that the biggest mistake people make is confessing they did it! Keep your mouth shut. Zip it. Do not admit to the police officer anything even if they say they will go easy on you if you cooperate. Just tell them that your lawyer instructed you not to talk. Be nice, polite, even friendly. Be cooperative, and obey the orders but do not discuss anything. Anything you say or do can be used in Court, they can record you without telling you, they can testify against you. If you do not talk then they may not have enough evidence to convict. Or it might be more difficult to convict so you can get a better deal.

The police are trained to get a confession. Ask them if your lawyer can be present. A police officer can lie to a person they are investigating. They can make promises and not keep them. So that is why “mums the word”.

Even if your 100% guilty say nothing, as talking can only hurt you. And if you are innocent then let your lawyer present your innocence to the police or the lawyers. Are their exceptions? Sure –if you had zero alcohol and zero drugs and they ask you if you have been drinking it is just fine to say not a drop. As long as you do not slur it, the smell of alcohol or weed, or are on some prescription medication that has you not yourself. See what I mean? It is risky to talk to a police officer. Period.

Make sure you do not miss a hearing date. Half the people that get in serious trouble do so by not showing up. Bench warrants go out, probation violations occur. You forget to update them on your new address.

The next thing to know is even if you are 100% guilty of the crime make sure you negotiate the best deal possible. Do not just plead guilty and take your lumps. Hire a lawyer or handle it yourself and find out what kind of a deal the prosecutor and Judge will do for you. And don’t get frightened over the maximum penalties allowed by law. I just hate how attorneys sell their legal services by scaring people by telling the potential client that they are looking at a max of 30 days in jail, or a year or five years or whatever the maximum is for the crime. In 99% of the cases, the deal you can get is not even remotely close to the maximum penalty. Your first d.u.i. is often no jail. Or a lot of times you get credit for time served at the time of the arrest and no further jail time is warranted. Your sentence is often based on your prior convictions. That is another reason to negotiate rather than just plead guilty. Sometimes you can get a stay of imposition, a stay of execution, a dismissal if you behave for a year, probation only, etc. There are lots of deals. You can get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor. You can get a d.u.i. reduced to a careless driving. (You still likely lose your license).

Now criminal defense lawyers want their money up front. They know once the deal is cut that you may not ever pay them. They do not want to have to chase you to collect their fees. Some charge ridiculous fees for routine matters. They justify it by promising to challenge constitutionally what the police did, and try and win due to some technical errors, such as a wrongful confessions, an improper stop, an insufficient legal basis for a warrant, etc. Well, maybe it will work. But what is the likelihood? And how much will you spend to find out? Do you want to pay $10,000 or more to maybe, have a slight chance of winning or are you better off working out a plea deal and moving on with your life? Long and honest discussions are needed with your honest attorney. People charged with serious crimes are desperate. They are not thinking clearly. They are hoping for a miracle. And they do not want their friends and family to know about the charges. So what they do is they get out the credit card, or borrow some money and lose $10,000 to $20,000 to a lawyer, a lawyer who likely is very, very good, but who cannot perform miracles.

So I am not saying never hire a high priced lawyer to help you but I am saying look at all your options and figure out the likelihood of winning on a technicality versus negotiating the best deal you can get and moving on with your life. I have handled assault and batteries, domestic abuse, drugs, dui’s, pedophilia cases, harassment orders, all kinds of misdemeanors, white collar fraud etc. and usually the best idea is to cut a deal and you cut a deal by not talking, not confessing, not getting into any more trouble and showing up for all hearings. That my friend is the reality fo the criminal system. If you want to get along go along!

About this blog

This is my first effort to blog about the law, how it affects your life, when you need a lawyer, how to choose one, how to negotiate your fees, what to expect and all that other kind of fun stuff for people looking to hire a lawyer. It is confusing, stressful, important, and it is true that many lawyers are mostly concerned about getting paid and while they may do a good job representing you they may not have your best interests at heart. By that I mean they may not look at the practicalities of the situation, figure out the least expensive solution, solve the problem by advising you not to proceed with a lawsuit or figure out a way to inexpensively get the job done.

I have been representing businesses and individuals for over 36 years as a practicing attorney in Minnesota (and to a lesser extent North Dakota).

I have practiced criminal law, civil law, family law, Wills and Estate Planning, and have handled just a wide variety of legal matters from multimillion-dollar lawsuits in federal court to $500 debt collection cases in conciliation court. I have helped people with getting rid of their timeshares, settling lawsuits, resolving problems with neighbors, associations and just all kinds of legal problems. Common sense usually works! Effective communication is key too. A strategy is needed some of the time. In some cases, you have to be very aggressive and bring the lawsuit all the way to Court and in other cases, you want to just let the case slowly, slowly move thru the legal system in the hopes the other side will eventually cave in. Sometimes it just takes a good mediator to help settle the case.

Often the problem is not the legal issues or the law but it may have to do with someone not having any money, needing advice on a domestic issue, or someone simply not understanding what in the heck is going to happen to them.

A person could get charged with a felony for drug possession with intent to sell. They may be looking at a five-year prison term. But it could be that in that jurisdiction if you have a clean record that you will get no jail time. But some lawyers will charge $5000 and not tell the poor person that the likelihood of prison is low!

Or for example, someone may owe you a large or small sum of money and maybe they just keep promising and promising to pay but never do! You might think it too expensive to hire a lawyer. What if all it took was for the lawyer to start a lawsuit. That might not be expensive at all. Maybe only a few hundred dollars or if complicated a few thousand dollars.

Maybe you need a Will but think it will cost way too much. A simple Will, along with a Power of Attorney and a Health Care Directive (also known as a living will) should only cost about $500 per person.