Most Americans have received a citation for minor infractions. Those “tickets” are annoying, but not life-changing. An arrest, on the other hand, can change the course of your life. As any criminal law guide will tell you, an arrest and conviction could result in:
With such stiff penalties, criminal defendants cannot afford to make any mistakes in defending themselves. Here is a bail and criminal law guide with eight steps to take if you are ever arrested:
Every criminal law guide begins the same — stay silent. While it can be tempting to try to explain yourself when you are questioned or arrested, keep in mind that police officers and other law enforcement officials are not neutral arbitrators of the law. They are trying to make a case against you and if you speak, you could just give them more information that can be used in their case.
You will get your chance to tell your side of the story. However, unless you are an experienced criminal attorney, you do not know the elements of the crime you are being charged with. Moreover, you often are unaware of the facts law enforcement has relied on to build its case. By speaking, you could inadvertently fill in the gaps of their case or even admit to something that they were previously unaware of. Worse yet, something you say could be misconstrued and end up creating problems with your defense.
As affirmed in the U.S. Supreme Court case called Miranda v. Arizona, you have a right to remain silent. This means that the government cannot force you to speak. Moreover, the government must warn you that anything you say can be used against you. This ensures that you do not inadvertently make a statement when you have a right not to.
When you are questioned or arrested, every criminal law guide agrees — ask for a lawyer. You have a constitutional right to legal representation, even if you do not have the money to hire one. However, there are reasons to put together the money to hire a criminal defense lawyer rather than using a public defender, including:
Criminal defense lawyers serve an important role in our justice system. When you are arrested, a criminal defense lawyer can:
A bail and criminal law guide would be incomplete without a detailed discussion of bail. The purpose of bail is to provide you with a way to be freed while you are awaiting trial while still providing the court with some assurance that you will make all your court appearances.
Under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, the court is prohibited from requiring “excessive bail” or imposing cruel or unusual punishment. As a result, bail will be granted in almost all cases unless the court finds that the defendant is a danger to the community or poses a flight risk.
If you do not post bail, you will have to wait for trial in jail. Even though the U.S. Constitution guarantees a speedy trial, court backlogs can mean a wait of several months or even a year or more for your trial date. If you have to spend this entire time in jail, you could lose your job and home, even though you have not been convicted of anything.
This unfairness has led to a movement to abolish cash bail. However, for now, bail is required in most states for your release after an arrest, meaning that you will need to find an affordable bail bond service to avoid waiting in jail for your trial.
This bail and criminal law guide addresses something that most articles miss — the nuts and bolts of posting bail. As a practical matter, bail is simply property that you give to the court until your trial. As long as you make all your court appearances, your property is returned. If you fail to appear in court, your property is forfeited and a warrant is issued for your arrest.
In minor cases, the bail might be low and you might be able to post cash bail. In more serious cases, however, bail might be several thousand dollars. When bail is too high for you to post cash, you can get assistance from a bail bond company. A bond is a promise by the bail bond company to the court to turn over the bail amount if you miss any of your court appearances. The way that a bail bond works is:
The next step of this bail and criminal law guide is to follow all your release conditions. After your bail bond agent posts your bail, the judge may impose conditions on your release.
For many people facing criminal charges, these conditions should be easy to follow. They usually include:
Occasionally, your release might come with more stringent conditions. For example, you might be required to surrender your passport so you cannot leave the country legally. In cases where the court is especially concerned about your likelihood of appearing in court, you might even be required to wear a GPS ankle bracelet.
If you violate your release conditions, you could be arrested. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, a judge might look very unfavorably on releasing you again and may revoke your bail.
It might seem too simple to include in a criminal law guide, but while you are out on bail, do not get arrested again. Unfortunately, once you have been arrested, you have a target on your back. The likelihood of another arrest might be high, depending on the original charges.
For example, even if you hire a DUI attorney and plan to fight the charges, being arrested for a DUI can result in automatic suspension of your driver’s license. If you continue to drive after your arrest, you could be arrested for driving on a suspended license.
Similarly, if you are arrested for domestic violence, many states grant an automatic protective order to alleged victims. If you are caught at a victim’s house or place of work, you could be arrested, even if you were invited by the victim.
Under normal circumstances, getting arrested is stressful. However, getting arrested while you are on bail for other charges can be catastrophic.
While you prepare for trial, talk to your lawyer about strategy and make sure your lawyer has all the facts of the case. Your communications with your criminal defense attorney are protected by attorney-client confidentiality, so your lawyer cannot disclose anything you discuss.
During this time, your lawyer will be one of the few people you can have complete and frank discussions with. You can help your lawyer develop your defense and your lawyer can be your criminal law guide to understand your charges.
At some point, your lawyer may hear from prosecutors about a possible plea deal. A plea deal is an agreement in which you plead guilty to a charge in exchange for the prosecutor’s dismissal of other charges or recommendation at sentencing. These deals save the prosecutor the time and expense of a trial, and they save you from the risk of a harsh sentence.
Although your lawyer negotiates with the prosecution for a deal, you make the ultimate decision whether to accept the deal. Once you accept the deal, you will be expected to live by it. This means that you will have to serve any jail sentence and pay any fines based on the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation.
Do whatever you can to make sure all the parts of your sentence are completed. If you need to report to jail, show up. If you have to pay fines, pay them. If you are put on probation, comply with your probation agreement. If you do not, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and you will have to start the process discussed in this bail and criminal law guide all over again.
Worse yet, as a repeat offender, you might have a more difficult time getting a judge to grant bail and, if you absconded, bail bond companies might charge more to issue bail bonds for your release. You might be unable to garner any sympathy from prosecutors for a reduced sentence. A jury might be reluctant to give you another chance if you squandered your prior chance.
On the other hand, if you serve your sentence fully and pay your debt to society, you might never need a bail and criminal law guide again.
Being arrested can be the low point of your life. Society stigmatizes criminals and the prospect of losing your job, losing your home, and even losing your family over an arrest can be disheartening.
However, hiring a law firm to guide you through the process and defend you vigorously can help you get through the process with a minimal impact on your future. As your legal advisor, advocate, and defender, a good criminal law attorney is sometimes the only way to avoid paying for your arrest for the rest of your life.