Got questions about criminal cases? Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered with a quick overview of criminal law, hiring a lawyer, what happens in court, and more.
What do I look for in hiring an attorney?
Most importantly, you need a lawyer with experience in the area of law where your problem exists. For example, when facing criminal charges, you need a lawyer experienced in criminal law. Not all lawyers are experienced in criminal law. Not all criminal defense lawyers have proven track records. This is a specialized area of law that follows different rules and procedures. You need a criminal defense attorney who understands your case and is able to effectively protect your rights. At Musick Law Office PLLC, our lawyers are experienced in criminal law. Our lawyers are former Harris County Prosecutors and experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys. They have handled thousands of cases and successfully tried hundreds of cases to jury verdicts. And, JoAnne Musick is board certified in both criminal law and juvenile law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Legal fees are also an important factor in choosing your lawyer, but do you really want the cheapest criminal defense attorney when your freedom and liberty are on the line? The old adage you get what you pay for is certainly true when it comes to legal fees. Quality representation is what you should seek to find, but that representation should come at a fair price. At Musick Law Office, we strive to provide each client with the highest quality of representation at a reasonable cost.
I’ve been charged with a crime, what do I do now?
It is very important that you consult with a criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible. You have key constitutional rights that need to be protected. Depending on the type of case, legal motions and requests may need to be filed immediately.
If you have not yet posted bond, you need an attorney to review your case and determine whether or not your bond can be lowered, thereby saving you hundreds of dollars in bonding fees. This is a critical time to consult a criminal defense attorney, otherwise you could end up being arrested on the warrant and end up spending more time in jail waiting to bond out (or spending more money by getting arrested while driving and then having your car towed and stored, incurring additional expenses).
If you have posted bond, or if you have a loved-one in jail who is unable to bond out, your attorney needs to begin working on preserving critical evidence that may aid in your defense.
What happens when I go to court?
Your first court setting is usually called the “arraignment.” Historically, this is when the court will tell you what you are charged with and the range of punishment for that offense. Some judges, especially in Harris County, forego the formality of an arraignment. In those courts, your attorney will simply give you that information. In some courts, the judge will call you up and explain the charge as well as your rights.
Any court appearance is also an opportunity for your lawyer to gather information about your case by reviewing the District Attorney’s file and speaking with the prosecutor. Also, at this time, the District Attorney may make a plea offer in an attempt to “plea-bargain” the case and avoid a trial.
Often times, this setting will result in a reset of your case to a future date. This is usually necessary so that your attorney can gather additional information, talk to witnesses, and test the state’s case and evidence. Your attorney will be able to advise you on whether or not you should reset your case.
At Musick Law Office, we strive to complete your case with as few court appearances as necessary, without sacrificing your rights.
What is going to happen to me if I’m found guilty?
That depends upon the offense. Sometimes your criminal defense attorney will be able to “plea-bargain” for a lesser charge or a lesser sentence. The range of punishment ultimately depends upon the conviction offense. The following list gives the range of punishment by class of offense:
- Class C misdemeanor (tickets): fine only, amounts vary by offense
- Class B misdemeanor: up to 180 days in jail and/or up to $2,000 fine
- Class A misdemeanor: up to one year in jail and/or up to $4,000 fine
- State Jail felony: minimum 6 months in state jail, maximum 2 years in state jail, without credit for “good time”, and up to $5,000 fine
- 3rd degree felony: minimum 2 years in prison, maximum 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine
- 2nd degree felony: minimum 2 years in prison, maximum 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine
- 1st degree felony: minimum 5 years in prison, maximum 99 years or life in prison and up to $10,000 fine
**Note: This list serves as only a baseline for punishment — certain enhancements (prior criminal history or aggravating circumstances) can increase the punishment range by increasing the minimum time, the maximum time, or both. And, some clients will qualify for probated sentences or deferred adjudication in lieu of jail/prison sentences. Finally, some clients may qualify for pretrial diversion or pretrial intervention programs.
Because the punishment range depends upon the conviction, this is where an experienced lawyer can help. As experienced criminal lawyers, we will work towards the best possible outcome, which might include a dismissal or a plea to a lesser charge which means a lesser
What is the difference between probation and deferred adjudication?
Probation refers to “community supervision.” In a probation case, the defendant is found guilty (i.e. convicted) and sentenced to a period of time in jail or prison; however, the jail time or prison time is “probated” or suspended, meaning put on hold. Probation time can range from 6 months on a misdemeanor to 10 years on a felony. During the probation period, the defendant meets with a probation officer and is monitored closely to ensure compliance. Some of the rules of probation include: commit no offenses, perform community service hours, pay a fine, pay court costs, not use drugs or alcohol, provide random urine tests, attend counseling or therapy, work faithfully or attend school full-time. Other rules often apply but are based on the particular offense. And, for any probation, the judge may order some jail time as a condition of the probation. At the end of the probation term, if the defendant is successful on probation, the judge will release the defendant from probation; however, if the defendant violates probation, he is subject to being sentenced to jail or prison for the period of time originally assessed. Probation gives a defendant the opportunity to stay out of jail or prison and be a productive member of society.
Deferred Adjudication refers to a form of community supervision wherein there is no finding of guilt and no conviction, so long as the period of supervision is successfully completed. For practical purposes, it is the same as being on probation, with the same conditions listed above. However, the difference is the judge “defers” the finding of guilt — the judge applies a wait and see philosophy. If the supervision is successfully completed, there is no finding of guilt and no conviction. But, if the defendant violates the supervision, the judge can find the defendant guilty and sentence him accordingly — a conviction. Because a successful deferred adjudication is not a conviction, in most cases it cannot be used against the defendant in the future to enhance punishment. The current law even allows most deferred adjudications to be “sealed” as a non-public record after a certain period of time. This is an important advantage because once the record is sealed (or made non-public) the defendant can deny the arrest, charge, and period of supervision — it need not be disclosed.
Consult your attorney to find out if deferred adjudication or probation are applicable to your case and if you should consider them as an alternative to a final conviction. While it sounds good, it is not always the best alternative!
The police did not read me my rights; will my case be dismissed?
Most likely, no. These rights are referred to as Miranda rights, coming from a Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. The Supreme Court stated that police must inform suspects of their rights prior to interrogating or questioning a suspect in custody (that familiar phrase: “you have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and probably will be used against you at your trial; you have the right to have a lawyer present prior to and during any questioning; if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you; and you have the right to terminate the interview at any time”).
When the police fail to read your rights, the effect is simply that your answers to questions made by the police while you were in custody are suppressible. This is where it is important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can deal with the suppression issues. At Musick Law Office, our lawyers have dealt with both adult statements and juvenile statements and have been successful in suppressing both, sometimes resulting in a dismissal. Whether or not your case will be dismissed depends upon the other evidence available to the prosecution.
If you still have questions, give us a call and let us help you navigate your case.