Reasons to Hire a Criminal Lawyer
Criminal lawyers provide many services for clients, in court and out of court. Here are 17 reasons to hire a criminal lawyer in New York City:
Consulting a criminal lawyer is a good idea if you’re concerned about being charged with a crime.
For example, you might want to consult a criminal lawyer if:
- You’re the defendant in a criminal case.
- You expect to be arrested.
- You want to know whether you could be arrested due to something that happened.
- You need to figure out how to approach a situation without breaking the law.
For your consultation to have value, you must fully and accurately describe all relevant information to your lawyer. Tell your lawyer the truth about everything. Don’t minimize, distort, or withhold relevant information. Forget about being embarrassed or ashamed. Like medical advice, legal advice based on false information will be useless to you at best, harmful at worst.
Attorney-client privilege protects you when you consult a lawyer. Your lawyer may not disclose confidential information. This means that you can safely tell your lawyer anything you’ve done in the past.
Your lawyer will explain how the law applies to your situation, and how you might avoid or minimize negative consequences.Investigation
People hire criminal lawyers to learn important information. Lawyers get information by conducting investigations, sometimes working with private investigators.
When no charges are filed in court, your lawyer might:
- Review documents that you provide.
- Interview witnesses.
- Search social media accounts.
- Search online databases.
- Ask the owners of surveillance cameras to preserve video evidence.
If criminal charges have been filed, your lawyer might also:
- Demand “discovery” (information that the law requires prosecutors to disclose).
- Issue “subpoenas” (court orders directing a person to produce evidence).
You don’t have to passively wait for charges to be filed to begin an investigation. Knowledge is power. The sooner you have it, the sooner you can be in a position of strength.
This is the first of 17 reasons to hire a criminal lawyer.
In certain situations, when you’re the victim of a crime, you might want to resolve the situation without involving police, prosecutors, or courts. Perhaps you want to protect your privacy.
Or maybe you want to give the perpetrator an opportunity to avoid the irrevocable damage of arrest and prosecution. For example, if a former romantic partner is harassing you with phone calls, emails, and/or text messages, you might want to give your ex- the opportunity to avoid humiliation, career damage, and/or jail.
You could ask a criminal lawyer to write a cease-and-desist letter on your behalf. The cease-and-desist letter might:
- Describe specific offensive behavior committed by the person harassing you.
- Explain how the offensive conduct violates the law.
- Direct the offender to stop harassing you, using language similar to the language that courts use in orders of protection.
- Spell out legal action that you could take if the behavior continues.
Your lawyer will make sure the offender receives the cease-and-desist letter, perhaps using a process server to deliver the letter in person.
An “i-card” is an NYPD document that identifies a “person of interest”. The person of interest could be a witness, but usually it’s someone who’s been accused of a crime.
The i-card often directs members of law enforcement to detain the person of interest.
People often learn about i-cards when they’re arrested following unrelated police contact – for example, an i-card might pop up when a police officer runs your license during a traffic stop.
While you’re outside the presence of police, you might learn that you’re the subject of an i-card when:
- A police officer calls you.
- A police officer leaves a business card at your door.
- Someone you live with (or used to live with) tells you that police came by your house, looking for you.
If you learn about an i-card, a criminal lawyer can contact the police on your behalf, find out why you’re a person of interest, notify police that you’re represented by counsel, and direct police not to question you.
If necessary, your lawyer can arrange a voluntary surrender. This is among the most common reasons to hire a criminal lawyer.
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“Voluntary surrender” means turning yourself in to police upon learning that police want to arrest you.
You should hire a criminal lawyer to arrange your surrender. The lawyer will:
- Arrange a mutually agreeable date and time for the surrender to happen.
- Instruct police not to question you.
- Advise you what to do, and what not to do, during the surrender. (For example, leave your phone at home.)
You could have your lawyer accompany you to the police station, but usually that isn’t necessary.
In New York City, you should surrender early in the day: 8:00 a.m. is usually a good time. This will give you a good opportunity to be arraigned the same day that you’re arrested.
Arraignment is the court process that begins a criminal case:
- You plead not guilty to criminal charges.
- If the Court doesn’t release you without bail, the Court sets a type of bail (cash, credit card, bail bond) and an amount of bail.
If you learn that you’re the subject of an i-card or an arrest warrant, or if your receive a desk appearance ticket (“DAT”) or a summons, you’ll have the opportunity to hire a lawyer to defend you at your arraignment.
If you’re unexpectedly arrested without notice, which is often the case, a friend or a family member might hire a lawyer to defend you at your arraignment while you’re in police custody.
Only minor criminal charges can be resolved at arraignment. More serious cases get “adjourned” to a future date for further proceedings.
At future court appearances, the case will either be dismissed, settled with a plea bargain, or moved towards trial.
If your case isn’t resolved at arraignment, you could have any number of additional court appearances: from one to dozens.
Along the way, your lawyer might try to:
- Negotiate a plea bargain.
- Get you into a program that addresses your particular needs, which could lead to a more favorable plea bargain.
- Prepare you to testify before a grand jury.
- Draft written motions for dismissal, discovery, and “suppression”.
- Investigate and issue subpoenas to find evidence that helps your defense.
You will have a lawyer defending you from arraignment until the charges against you are resolved. If you can’t afford a lawyer, the Court will appoint one to represent you at no cost to you.
Plea bargaining involves trying to negotiate a resolution of criminal charges. It’s one of the three ways that every criminal case is resolved: dismissal, plea bargain, or trial.
While your case is pending in court, your criminal lawyer will use every opportunity to try to negotiate a plea bargain for you, unless you tell your lawyer that no plea bargain is acceptable. Even then, your lawyer must bring to your attention each offer made, so you can specifically reject each one.
There are three parties to every plea bargain: 1) the defendant; 2) the prosecutor; and 3) the Court. All parties must agree to the terms of a plea bargain. Otherwise, there’s no plea bargain and the case must proceed to trial.
Plea bargains can be structured in many different ways. Some possible outcomes are:
- Dismissal of all charges, usually after the passage of time.
- Conviction of a non-criminal offense.
- Conviction of a crime that is less serious than the most serious charge.
- Conviction of the most serious charge.
- Conviction where the parties agree on precisely what the sentence will be.
- Conviction where the sentence can vary, depending on whether the defendant meets certain conditions.
- Conviction of a more serious charge at the time of pleading guilty, to be replaced by a less serious charge if the defendant meets certain conditions (often called a “conditional plea” or “re-pleader”).
Sentences that the Court may impose as part of a plea bargain include:
- Conditional Discharge.
Conditional discharge and probation are “revocable” sentences. The Court can re-sentence a person to jail for violating a condition of a revocable sentence. Sentencing conditions might include:
- Order of protection.
- Community service.
- Drug treatment.
- Batterer’s intervention program.
- Anger management.
- Mental health counseling.
The terms of a plea bargain are influenced by many factors, including:
- The seriousness of the charges.
- Previous criminal history.
- The strength of the evidence.
- Whether the crime charged is violent or non-violent.
- Rehabilitative treatment that reduces the likelihood of re-offending.
Your criminal lawyer will apply these factors to your best advantage to persuade the prosecutor and the Court to make an offer that’s acceptable to you.
Before taking you to trial on felony charges, the District Attorney must first “indict” you. The prosecutor does this by presenting evidence to a grand jury.
A grand jury is a group of 16 to 23 jurors who listen to evidence presented to them by the District Attorney. After hearing the evidence, they votes to decide whether the DA has sufficient evidence to take your case to trial.
You have the opportunity to testify before the grand jury decides whether or not to indict you. Whether to testify before the grand jury is a complicated decision.
Your lawyer should properly advise you of the risks of testifying, and the risks of not testifying. If you testify, your lawyer must thoroughly prepare you to testify.
Whether you testify or not, the grand jury will vote after the DA finishes presenting evidence. If 11 or more grand jurors find “reasonable cause” to believe you committed one or more crimes, you will be indicted. If 10 or fewer grand jurors find reasonable cause, your case will be dismissed.
Before trial, courts frequently conduct hearings to resolve important issues, relying on evidence submitted by the prosecution and the defense. These hearings sometimes determine whether or not a case will be able to go to trial.
For example, before trial, Courts often decide whether to “suppress” certain evidence.
Types of evidence that the Court might suppress include:
- Physical evidence seized by police.
- Statements that the defendant made while in police custody.
- Police-arranged identification of the defendant by a witness.
If the Court determines, based on evidence presented at the hearing, that police broke the law while collecting evidence, then the evidence might be suppressed. If police didn’t violate the law, then the prosecutor may use the evidence at trial.
If the prosecutor can’t prove certain charges without the excluded evidence, then the Court might dismiss the charges, making trial unnecessary.
Pre-trial hearings involve high-stakes litigation that require a lot of preparation and a high degree of courtroom skill.
Trial is the court proceeding that determines a defendant’s guilt or non-guilt. Trial is one of the most important reasons to hire a criminal lawyer.
At a trial, the prosecutor will try to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your criminal lawyer will try to create doubt by undermining the prosecutor’s case and by, sometimes, proving your innocence.
A trial that’s decided by a group of citizens is called a “jury trial”. A trial that’s decided by one judge is called a “bench trial”.
- Plea bargain, or
The vast majority of case are resolved by dismissal or plea bargain.
However, your evaluation of the prosecutor’s ability to prove the charges will help you decide whether to accept a plea offer. So, even if you wish to avoid trial, your criminal lawyer must prepare for trial to get you the best possible plea bargain.
Near the end of trial, your lawyer will make a logical and emotional “closing argument” in favor of acquittal, built on a strong foundation of evidence established through effective cross-examination and direct examination of witnesses.
Throughout trial, your lawyer must demonstrate a wide array of skills at the highest level, in an effort to persuade the jury to acquit you.
Appearing in Your Absence
Sometimes, you might want your criminal lawyer to appear in court without you.
For example, if you live far from New York City – in another country, or in a distant state – it might be very expensive and inconvenient for you to come to court.
Sometimes, your criminal lawyer may appear in court in your absence.
If you received a summons, you have the absolute right to have your lawyer appear in court without you.
If your lawyer is able to work out a plea bargain before your court date, the prosecutor and the Court might agree to excuse your absence. This is more commonly permitted when you face less-serious charges.
For your lawyer to appear in court without you (in absentia), you must sign documents drafted by your lawyer, authorizing the lawyer to appear in court, and act on your behalf, in your absence.
If you miss a court appearance, the Court will issue a bench warrant. The warrant authorizes police to arrest you.
If you don’t return to court within 30 days, the prosecutor may charge you with the crime of bail jumping. Also, any bail posted to secure your release will be forfeited.
Courts also issue bench warrants when defendants fail to fulfill sentencing conditions. For example:
- Failure to pay a fine.
- Failure to pay a court fee.
- Failure to pay restitution.
- Failure to complete community service.
If the Court issues a warrant, it’s always best for you to return to court voluntarily, so the Court can vacate it.
Your criminal lawyer will help you vacate the warrant, and will try to persuade the Court to release you without bail.
Appeal is a process for challenging your conviction in a higher court, based on errors that the lower court made.
Some criminal lawyers specialize in handling appeals. They’re called “appellate lawyers”.
If you’re convicted, an appellate lawyer will scour “the record”, searching for errors. Court proceedings are written down, word for word, by “court reporters”. They transcribe everything that happened “on the record”.
The record primarily consists of:
- Witness testimony
- Trial exhibits
- Statements by the judge
- Statements by the lawyers
- Statements made by jurors and prospective jurors, and
- Motion papers and other documents filed with the Court.
Your appellate lawyer will write a detailed “brief”, often arguing to the appellate court that your conviction should be “reversed” (undone) due to errors that the trial court made.
If the trial court made substantial errors the appellate court might order a new trial, giving you a new opportunity to avoid a conviction.
Sometimes events occur “outside the record”, meaning they weren’t transcribed by a court reporter and they’re not contained in the court file. These events can’t be reviewed on appeal, because they’re not part of the record.
If an outside-the-record event violates your rights, your criminal lawyer might be able to raise the issue by making a motion to vacate your conviction (also known as a “440 Motion”).
Grounds for granting a 440 Motion include:
- Juror misconduct.
- The prosecutor withheld favorable evidence.
- Ineffective assistance of counsel.
- Newly discovered evidence.
When granting a 440 motion, the trial court might order a new trial.
440 Motions move outside-the-record events into the record. If the trial court denies your 440 motion, you may now seek permission to appeal.
Under certain circumstances, your criminal lawyer may move the Court to seal your criminal conviction. This is often called “expungement”.
Sealing removes criminal convictions from the public record.
You’re eligible for sealing only if your convictions total:
- 1 or 2 “eligible” misdemeanors;
- 1 eligible felony; or
- 1 eligible felony and 1 eligible misdemeanor.
At least 10 years must transpire since the most recent of the following: 1) the date when the Court sentenced you on your most recent conviction or; 2) the date of your most recent release from jail.
Everyone who qualifies for sealing should seek it.
If you receive a subpoena to testify in court or before a grand jury, and/or to produce documents, then you should consult a criminal lawyer.
Your lawyer can advise you about how you might legally resist complying with a subpoena.
For example, your lawyer might advise you that:
- You can ignore the subpoena if you haven’t been properly served.
- You can move to “quash” all or part of the subpoena on various legal grounds.
- You can assert your “Fifth Amendment privilege” while you’re on the witness stand if your response to a question might incriminate you.
These are common occasions when you might enlist the services of a criminal lawyer. There are many more.
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