A rather bleak topic, but one that I encounter from time to time -- and an honest question. What happens? The good news is that for the most part, the system is on auto-pilot. Booking, and intake is largely routine; and few individuals are really questioned for misdemeanors or petty crimes. It goes without saying -- however, I'll say it anyway -- be respectful, cooperative, and considerate to the arresting officers. A combative nature only puts you at higher risk. And, surprisingly, many police officers are just as anxious making an arrest as you are being arrested. Do your part to lower tensions and let the process play out.
Once you are "booked" (slang term for being photographed and entered into the police tracking system), you will be place in the "tank" -- a holding area. If you have not been taken before a magistrate, that will happen immediately before being placed in the tank, or very shortly after being held. The magistrate will listen to the arresting officer, and either release you on your own recognizance (meaning you have to come back for your court date, but no bond is pending), or assign a bond amount.
If bond is set, you are returned to the tank. At this point, you have the opportunity to contact a relative or bail-bonding company to post bond and go home. You will have to return for your preliminary hearing, usually about a week after your initial arrest. If you cannot afford bond, you will be held until your preliminary hearing, unless you can make a cogent argument why release is critical.
When you get home, you obviously need to contact an attorney. But what does the lawyer do?
In most misdemeanor cases, research is minimal. An attorney will review your case, determine if there are any non-normative events that need further investigation. He/she will also contact the arresting officer, and determine if a specific district attorney has been assigned to your case (this is not common, but does occasionally happen). The attorney will interview you and discuss the options for plea bargain and what the potential consequences of a conviction might be. It is extremely important that you tell your attorney if there are any special situations that need to be considered (single parent with no other support structure for your children, security clearances, work issues, etc.) when sentencing. The court will entertain exigent circumstances, if it can. However, if the lawyer does not know to ask....
Felonies are a little different, as a lot more research is required (in the form of investigation and legal precedent).
At the day of the trial, your attorney will arrive with you to court. He/she will seek out the prosecuting attorney and attempt to strike a deal before the trial. Neither judges nor prosecuting attorneys want to sit through myriad trials. The more cases that can be settled prior to trial, the better for the entire system (i.e. the cases can actually be disposed of). This works in the accused favor (most of the time!) as it allows a good defense attorney to attempt to bargain for better terms when the accused is actually guilty.
There are certain times when there is little a defense attorney can do -- mandatory sentencing is an example. Can't bargain out of that - requires a fight, and if convicted, there is little room for negotiation.
However, for many misdemeanors, it's more a matter of aggressive posturing on the part of the defense attorney that gets the accused a better deal.
Generally, a 1st class misdemeanor runs about $1200 - $2200 to defend, depending on the nature of the charge (assualts generally cost more than minor drug and alcohol arrests).
Have you been arrested? Do you have a legal question? Call and ask us (703-402-2723)! We're happy to help, and your first call is always free.
Sean R. Hanover, Esq