Q: When Should You Call A Lawyer?
A: You should contact a criminal defense lawyer right away you if are under investigation or arrested for an offense. Even if you are innocent or your case is still being investigated, you need a competent and experienced legal representative who will protect your rights.
Q: Why Do You Need A Lawyer?
A: Only a lawyer that is experienced in handling criminal cases can evaluate the chances of success of going to trial or negotiating a favorable plea bargain.
Your attorney (and possibly, with the help of private investigators), might be able to give evidence to police or the prosecutor that could convince them not to file charges against you before you are even charged. Early preparation allows your lawyer more time to thoroughly investigate your case and preserve any evidence that is in your favor.
After charges are filed against you, your lawyer can determine whether going to trial is in your best interest. If so, he or she can come up with the best strategy to build a winning defense. If a trial will not benefit you, however, your lawyer will negotiate a favorable plea bargain.
Q: Should You Speak With Police?
A: Definitely not! Do not sign anything or make any kind of statement!
If you are under investigation by police, you might not even know it. They could ask you to come to the police station and give them a statement. You might think that this is your opportunity to tell them your side of the story. Do not do this! This is a risky time for anyone under investigation for an offense or charged with a crime. Do not let law enforcement authorities intimidate or scare you into responding to their questions. Some police officers will promise or do almost anything to try to trick or coerce you into giving a statement.
Rather than speak with police, talk to a defense attorney right away. Your lawyer will intercede and talk to detectives and police for you. This is a good way to give valuable information about your innocence and could lead to police not filing charges against you. It will also prevent you from making any statements that can be used against you. The police are not meeting with you to clear you of the charges. They want to gather as much evidence as possible to make a case against you that could lead to a conviction. Any statement that you give them, including statements that you think are innocent, could be damaging and used by the prosecution during trial.
Q: What Does Proving Guilt "Beyond A Reasonable Doubt" Mean?
The prosecutor must persuade the jury or judge that is hearing the case that you are guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." This is a very difficult standard to meet. (In non-criminal cases, such as breach of contract or personal injury cases, a plaintiff must prove that he or she is not guilty only by a preponderance of the evidence—meaning just over 50%). The high burden of proof in criminal cases means that jurors and judges must have no doubt about the meaning of the evidence in relation to a defendant. With such a high standard imposed on the prosecutor, the most common defense of a defendant is to argue that reasonable doubt exists—meaning that the prosecutor has not done a proper job of proving that the defendant is guilty.
Q: Am I Guaranteed A Trial By A Jury If I Am Accused Of A Crime?
A: Yes, you are. The United States Constitution says that anyone accused of a crime has the right to a trial in front of a jury. This right has long been interpreted to mean a 12-person jury that must reach a unanimous decision to acquit or convict. A lack of unanimity in California is called a "hung jury." Unless the prosecutor decides to retry the case, the defendant will go free. The prospective jurors have to be randomly chosen from the community. The actual jury members are chosen during a process that lets the attorneys for both sides and the judge screen out any persons that show bias. An attorney is also allowed to eliminate potential jurors if it seems that any of them might be in favor of the opposing side. These decisions cannot be based on certain personal traits, such as religion, nation of origin, gender, or race.