A: As soon as you become aware that the police (or some other investigating agency) are looking for or investigating you, or if you believe that you may have committed a crime. A lawyer can intervene with the police and either prevent an arrest or, if you are going to be arrested, arrange for your surrender at a time and in a manner that minimizes embarrassment to you or your family. Hiring a lawyer will also protect you from being questioned by the police.
Q: If I am innocent, why do I need a lawyer?
A: Innocent people do get accused, AND CONVICTED, of crimes. Also, people who may have committed one crime often get accused (sometimes wrongfully) of committing additional, and more serious, crimes. As the accused, you have a constitutional right to remain silent. You are always better off having a lawyer learn about the accusation, discuss it with you, and develop a strategy for responding to the charge.
Q: What should I do if I am arrested?
A: First, be polite and cooperative. Arguing or struggling or fighting will never make the situation better. Rarely, if ever, will a person be able to convince an officer to stop an arrest.
Second, say nothing to the police other than your name and other identifying information (e.g., address, date of birth). DO NOT discuss the situation with them. You should tell the police that you want to speak to a lawyer, and that you do not want to speak to them until you have spoken to a lawyer.
Finally, call a lawyer -- as soon as possible.
Q: Should I tell the police my side of the story?
A: No. You should NEVER talk to the police without first contacting a lawyer. In fact, many convictions result from statements made to the police. Whether the officer speaking to you is nasty or nice, he or she is looking for evidence that can be used against you. The police are even permitted to lie to you or otherwise trick you in order to get you to talk. Tell the officer that you want to talk to a lawyer.
Remember: You have the right to remain silent. Exercise that right.
Q: The police did not read me my Miranda rights. Can I still be charged?
A: Yes. The police are not required to read you any Miranda rights ("You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. . . .). The Miranda rights are required only if the police or prosecutor want to use what you say against you in court. The rights were developed to make sure that a person knows that he or she does not have to talk to the police, and thus to make sure that any statements made to the police are made voluntarily. In practice, the police often do not tell the truth about having given the rights, or read them to you in a way that makes you think that you have to talk. You should NEVER talk to the police without first contacting a lawyer.
Q: What happens after I am arrested?
A: You will first be taken to a police precinct, where the police will prepare the various reports that they must fill out following an arrest. You will be interviewed regarding your name, address and other identifying information. You will be photographed and fingerprinted.
If the offense is minor, you may be released from the police precinct with a summons to appear in court on a future date. A lawyer may be able to convince the police to release you with a summons.
If you are not released with a summons, you will be brought to court within approximately twenty-four hours (the timing varies depending on the county in which you are arrested and the number of other arrests made that day) for what is called an arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be formally notified of the charge or charges that have been filed against you, and the judge will decide whether bail should be set and in what amount. The lawyer can play a very important role in convincing the judge to release you without bail or with bail in an amount that you will be able to afford. If you have not already hired a lawyer, the judge may appoint a lawyer to represent you at the arraignment.
Q: Will the process be different if the person arrested is a minor?
A: If the person arrested is 16 or older, he or she is considered an adult. The arrest processing will be the same as described above. If the person arrested is under 16, he or she will probably be taken to Family Court, where an arraignment will take place and a bail determination will be made as above. In some circumstances, a juvenile arrested for serious offenses (such as murder or robbery) may be prosecuted as an adult.
Q: What is bail?
A: Bail is money or other property that is deposited with the court to make sure that the person accused (the "defendant") will return to court when he or she is required to do so. So long as the defendant returns to court as required, the bail will be returned at the end of the case, even if the defendant is ultimately convicted and sentenced to jail. However, if the defendant does not come to court when required, the bail will be forfeited to the court and will not be returned.
For example, if bail is set at $1000, the defendant will be held in jail unless and until someone brings $1000 to the court or the jail. The person posting the bail will be given a receipt and, within a few hours, the defendant will be released. The court will then hold the $1000 until the case is over. Assuming the defendant goes to court when required, the bail will be "exonerated" (minus a small administrative cost) at the end of the case. A check will be mailed to the name and address given at the time the bail was posted.
Q: What is a bail bond?
A: A bail bond is a promise to pay the amount of the bail if the defendant does not return to court when required to do so. Only a licensed bail bondsman can post a bond with the court. Bondsmen are private businesses that are licensed by the state to perform this role. Bail bondsmen will charge a fee to post the bond, and will usually require some type of collateral (cash or property) to secure the bond. At the end of the case, the bond will be released and the collateral will be returned. The bondsmen keeps the fee. If the defendant does not return to court and the bond is forfeited, the bail bondsman will be required to pay the court the amount of the bond. The bondsman, in turn, will keep the collateral or come to you to be made whole.
For example, if bail is set at $10,000 bond or cash, you may choose to bring the entire bail of $10,000 to the jail and the defendant will be released. Although the full amount must be deposited with the court, at the end of the case all of the money (minus a small administrative fee) will be returned. Alternatively, you may go to a bail bondsman. A bondsman will probably charge a fee of approximately $800 to post a $10,000 bond, and will probably ask for around $3000 in cash or property as collateral. (Since these are private businesses, fee and collateral requirements vary). In this example, the benefit of using a bondsman is that approximately $4000 is needed to get the defendant out of jail rather than $10,000. The drawback is that at the end of the case, assuming that the defendant appears in court when required to do so, the bail bondsman's fee of $800 is not returned.
Q: How much will it cost to hire a lawyer?
A: The swift and obvious answer is ~~ it depends. The cost of defending against criminal charges will vary depending upon the charges, the facts of the case, and whether the matter proceeds to trial. Some lawyers charge an hourly rate while others charge a single fee for the entire case or a separate fee for different stages of the case. For example, there may be one fee for all pretrial matters and an additional fee for the trial itself.
A good lawyer will provide a free initial consultation so that he can assess your case and establish a reasonable fee and so that you can decide whether you feel comfortable with his lawyering style. Do not be reluctant to ask specific questions of the lawyer. The lawyer works for you, the client, and should be open to any reasonable inquiries that you may have.