Whether or not you committed a crime, you may want to plead guilty for a number of reasons. You think that if you plead guilty, it could help your case and you may be able to get your charges reduced. Perhaps you believe that other charges may be dropped if you just said that you committed a crime. You’re afraid of harsh penalties and you don’t want your life to be in shambles because you chose not to plead guilty.
If you plan on pleading guilty to a crime, you may be wondering: Do I still need a criminal lawyer? After all, can’t you just go into court, say you committed a crime, and be done with it? Why should you have to spend money on a lawyer or waste your time in court?
The truth of the matter is that hiring a lawyer could make all the difference in the world and result in a much better outcome. And if you’re facing criminal charges in Florida, you can call on Meltzer & Bell, criminal defense lawyers in West Palm Beach for help with your case.
Why You Should Hire a Criminal Lawyer
No matter what course of action you plan on taking, you should hire a criminal lawyer with extensive experience.
When you are charged with a crime, three things can happen:
- Your charges will be dismissed
- You will enter into a plea bargain, also known as a plea deal
- You will go to court
Even if you’ve watched countless episodes of “Law and Order” or Googled information about criminal charges, you don’t have a law degree and the experience to know which course of action to take.
Remember: The prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. You are presumed innocent until then. Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is very difficult because it requires the right evidence. Plus, the prosecutor has to convince and the judge or jury that this evidence points to your guilt. This is no easy task.
A lawyer will know exactly what your charges are and what could happen if you are convicted of them. They could explain the charges to you and spell out what lies ahead in your future. You may end up not wanting to plead guilty.
Additionally, your lawyer will have negotiation skills, which will come in very handy if you do want to plead guilty.
Why You Need a Lawyer for a Plea Bargain
Let’s say the prosecutor is pressuring you to take a plea deal. You plead guilty, and then you have to accept the plea deal. If you were supposed to go to jail for one year and pay $2,500 in fines, now you only have to go to jail for six months and pay $2,000 in fines.
The prosecutor is typically not going to offer you an excellent deal. Instead, they would be willing to negotiate with your criminal defense lawyer. Usually, a defendant will only plead guilty after the lawyer and the prosecutor have gone through an extensive negotiation and renegotiation process. Your lawyer will work hard to get you the best plea bargain possible. If you don’t have representation, no one is going to negotiate for you or look out for your best interests.
A Lawyer Will Examine the Case
Remember that along with negotiating a plea deal, a criminal defense lawyer will also be able to examine the prosecutor’s case against you and determine if it’s strong. The typical person without a law degree does not know how to do that.
There are so many ways you could get your charges dismissed or reduced and ways that you could guarantee a better future for yourself with the help of your criminal defense lawyer.
For instance, the following could apply:
- Your lawyer could determine that a piece of evidence cannot legitimately be used to prove your guilt.
- Your lawyer could cross-examine a witness and show the court that the witness is not of sound mind or not telling the truth.
- You could tell your lawyer that you were somewhere else at the time the alleged crime occurred, which would be an alibi without you even knowing it.
- Your lawyer could listen to your side about what happened during the arrest and determine that the arresting officer did not follow proper protocol.
- Your lawyer could show a piece of evidence you gave them to the prosecutor to prove your innocence.
- Your lawyer may have a good working relationship with the judge and prosecutor and be able to work something out.
- Your lawyer may know that a judge or prosecutor are notoriously tough and will do anything they can fight the charges.
These are just a few of the possibilities. Until you pick up the phone and contact a lawyer, you never know what your defense could be or how you could get out of being charged with a crime.
How the Criminal Case Process Works
Since this is your first arrest, you may be confused about the criminal case process in general. Learning about it can give you some peace of mind since you know what to expect.
When the police arrest you, the defendant, they will take you to jail. One of three things will happen: You will be released if the prosecutor does not file charges, or you will post bail or a bond and you’ll be released. Then, you’ll need to appear in court later on for your arraignment. In the third scenario, you will stay in jail and the police will take you to court for your arraignment.
The case starts once a few things happen. The police will arrest you and write a report that summarizes what occurred and what led to your arrest. You cannot see the report in order to protect the witness’ identities, if there were any witnesses. Your criminal defense lawyer can see it, however.
The prosecutor will then decide if they want to file charges and, if so, what charges to file. They will classify these charges as felonies or misdemeanors. Under the law, you have a right to a speedy trial, so the prosecutor is required to file the charges within 48 hours of the arrest if you are in jail. Court closures, court holidays, and weekends do not count against the 48 hours, and the deadline arraignment will go by the time of day it was when you were arrested.
Then, the arraignment happens. The judge will tell you what your charges are, along with your constitutional rights. If you do not have the means to hire a lawyer, the court will give you one free of charge. While this may sound like a good solution, it is not, and it should be a last resort. A public defender is underpaid and overwhelmed and could be handling hundreds of cases at a time. They won’t be able to work as hard on your specific case or meet with you as much as you need, like a criminal defense lawyer would.
Next, you can respond to the charges by entering a plea. You could plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest, which means that you do not disagree with the charge. This is pretty much like a plea bargain; the difference is that it can’t be used against you in a civil lawsuit.
If you do not enter into a plea bargain, then it will go into a pre-trial phase. The prosecution will exchange information with your lawyer in a process called discovery. Your lawyer and the prosecution can fight to include or not include certain evidence in the trial. You can also change your plea to guilty or no contest, and the prosecutor and your lawyer may discuss resolving the case without it having to go to trial.
What Happens During the Trial
Before the trial, you and your lawyer will discuss having a jury trial, where a jury of your peers decides the outcome, or a judge trial, where the judge decides the outcome. Then, if they go with a jury trial, the lawyers will choose who will serve on the jury by asking questions and making sure that jurors are impartial. For example, if you were charged with domestic violence and a potential juror said they were involved in a previous domestic violence case, they may not be deemed impartial and wouldn’t be able to serve.
At the trial, both the prosecutor and your lawyer will give an opening statement about your case. Then, they will present evidence and witnesses and question them about what supposedly happened. After they are finished, the prosecutor and lawyer will give their closing arguments, and the jury will decide if you are guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
What Happens After the Trial
When the trial has concluded, if you are found not guilty, then you will be acquitted and released. And if you are found guilty, then you will be sentenced. Your sentence will depend on what you were charged with and whether it was a misdemeanor or a felony.
For instance, the most serious charge is a capital felony. First-degree murder is a capital felony in Florida and could result in life in prison without parole or the death penalty. On the other end of the spectrum, a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida, which is the least serious, could result in a fine of up to $500 and a jail term of up to 60 days.
If you have a criminal record, it’s going to be tough for you to secure housing and employment since landlords may be worried about renting to an ex-convict and employers will not want to hire one. If you want to go to college, you will unfortunately not be eligible to take out federal student loans or get federal grants. That’s why it’s important to try to fight charges. Otherwise, they could affect you for the rest of your life.
When Do You Call a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
The best time to call a criminal defense lawyer is as soon as you get arrested. You are allowed to call someone and you could call a lawyer directly or ask a family member or friend to call a lawyer for you. When you speak to your lawyer, answer any questions they have but do not reveal what happened regarding the alleged crime. This could be used against you later on since law enforcement may be recording your phone call. Instead, wait until you can meet with your lawyer in a private setting to talk more about the case.
When you are in jail, you should also avoid talking about the details of your case since, again, you may be recorded. This information could hurt your case down the line. Even though being in jail is incredibly difficult, it’s important for you to follow the rules at all times. If you don’t, you could end up with more criminal charges on your record.
Reach Out to Meltzer & Bell
Whether or not you want to plead guilty to your charges, make sure you get in touch with Meltzer & Bell, criminal defense lawyers in West Palm Beach, today.
We have extensive experience representing clients who have been charged with a number of different crimes such as theft and property crimes, DUIs, domestic violence, sexual crimes, and weapon and firearm charges. We’re known for our solid record of helping our clients achieve their desired results. For example, we got a not guilty verdict for a client who was charged with a felony for battery on medical personnel, and we got a grand theft charge dismissed after completion of a pre-trial intervention agreement. Another client who was charged with a DUI didn’t have to serve any jail time thanks to our defense.
You never know how we could help you until you reach out. Before you decide to enter into a plea bargain, make sure you call (561) 557-8686 or contact us online here. We’re standing by 24/7 and ready to help with your criminal case.