If you are charged with a crime, you need to strongly consider obtaining counsel immediately. Innocent people can be convicted. Even if you think that you may be guilty you need to make sure an attorney provides a vigorous defense and forces the State to meet its burden of proof.
First things first, you should not make any statements to the police. Police always say they will go easy on you if you cooperate. This is simply not true, they are just trying to get a confession to make their job easier. It is possible to cooperate with the police for a reduced sentence, but if there is not a deal in writing – there is NO deal. Do not be fooled.
If you are in jail you will have a bond hearing usually within three days. The court sets a bond based on many factors. Attorneys can prepare for these preliminary hearings quickly, and you should have a public defender available from the jail. Do not waive your rights to an attorney or a jury trial at this time. You may be released on your own recognizance, meaning you do not have to put down money to guarantee your appearance back to the court. If you are not you need to look at the bond rules for your State. In Arkansas, if you only put 10% of it down it is not-refundable. For this reason, we always try to see if our clients can pledge property such as a house to get 100% down. We have also used ankle monitors to get courts to reduce the bond.
If you don’t have one at this point, then you, or a loved one if you are in jail, want to shop around for an attorney. Do not make your decision based solely on price, marketing, or one referral. While a referral may be excellent, your friend may be telling you about an attorney that helped him with a divorce. You want one that focuses on criminal defense. Another note on price is that some attorneys will simply plea your case as quickly as possible without doing a lot of work. Of course they can do that cheaper than an attorney who is really working your case. Criminal defense attorneys typically offer free consultations. Take one and get someone who you are comfortable with.
Now the process varies a lot among States after this. Typically there will be a plea and arraignment date where you say Guilty or Not Guilty. In all my years of practice, I have never plead a client Guilty on this date. That is because you should not plea until your attorney sees all the evidence from the prosecutor. This process is called discovery. The State may have a very weak or a very strong case.
Usually on complex cases you will typically have several “pretrial” or “omnibus” dates before your actual trial date. These are status checks with the court and also provide your attorney an opportunity to argue motions such as the suppression of evidence.
Finally, you should consider how to best keep updated about your case. I have clients where I snail mail all their paperwork to on an ongoing basis. With others I email them. Some call me all the time even though I have no news for them. Make sure your attorney promises to keep you up to date with any developments on your case and work out the best way to do that.
Remember, all cases are different. The above is a general overview. Please ask us any specific questions you have. My name is Seth Bowman and I am a criminal defense attorney in Arkansas. Call us at (888) 674-5327 for a Free Consultation or visit my Arkansas Criminal Defense Page.