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Understanding the nature of your legal problem is critical to avoiding mistakes early in your case.

When faced with criminal charges, many potential clients have questions they’d like to ask prior to meeting with a lawyer. We have included answers to a number of frequently asked questions below. If you have any other questions, please contact the Law Office of Justin P. Miller today.

Do I need attorney?

In a word, Yes. It doesn’t matter if you are facing criminal charges, a protection from abuse (PFA) order, a CYS investigation, or educational disciplinary proceeding. You need an attorney. There is a lot on the line. You could lose your liberty, your career, and your good name. And you can’t count on the prosecutor or the judge to see that you didn’t do anything wrong or are a good person.

Television has taught us a number of bad lessons, and the sooner they are unlearned the better. Cops are not your friends. The District Attorney is out to get a conviction, and justice may be a secondary concern. The system doesn’t always protect the innocent. These are harsh, but necessary truths.

Even – or especially – if you are innocent, don’t expect the District Attorney and the Judge to agree with you. Court proceedings are run on rules. An experienced attorney knows these rules and can guide you through them. Attorney Justin P. Miller knows the rules, the court staff, the judges, the prosecutors, and the options available to you.

Should I go with the Public Defender?

If you are entitled to counsel and can’t afford to pay for a private attorney, you should go with the public defender. In most counties, the public defender has income guidelines that cut off somewhere slightly above the Federal Poverty Line (In 2013, $11,490 for individuals and $23,550 for a family of four). Public defenders are licensed attorneys, but by the very nature of their work they cannot spend the time on your case that a private attorney can. Because they represent everyone who qualifies, they can’t be selective and choose the cases they want to handle. As a result, they can’t always take a client’s phone calls or do everything a client requests. Attorney Justin P. Miller spent three years as a public defender, so he knows the frustration public defenders feel in their jobs when they can’t spend the time they want to for a client who needs their complete attention.

You are not entitled to counsel in initial Protection From Abuse (PFA) hearings, when you are being investigated (but not charged) by the police, or during CYS investigations (although you are entitled to counsel at any CYS-related hearings before the court). If you don’t hire your own attorney in these situations, you may accidentally incriminate yourself. Remember: the police are trained interrogators who are rewarded and promoted for closing cases, not for solving crimes. They will twist your words, ask the same question five ways, and try to get you to doubt your own memory. Everyone says “I’d never confess to something I didn’t do!” And yet it happens all the time. Protect yourself.

If you do go with a public defender, (But note that public defenders are not appointed for protection orders, antiharassment orders, criminal charges that are under investigation or cps investigations). If you have the funds to pay for counsel, then you should retain counsel. You will receive more frequent attention and greater resources will be applied to your case. And you can hand pick your attorney vs. having a randomly assigned attorney, of unknown skill and commitment to you or your case, appointed to you.

How do I select an attorney?

Look to experience, the attorney’s style, and fees. How long has the attorney been in practice? Has he or she handled a case like yours in the past? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Do you trust this person? Does he or she communicate well with you? Do you get the sense he or she understands your case and cares about how it effects your life? Most attorneys interact with judges, prosecutors, and jurors just as they interact with you. If you like him or her, there’s a good chance the attorney is good with these other people, too, and likely has a good relationship with the prosecutors and the judges. These relationships are invaluable in getting you a better outcome than might otherwise be possible.

What is ARD?

ARD is often the best resolution to a case. It is for first-time offenders and leaves them with a clean record. ARD’s initials stand for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. It typically consists of a twelve-month period of supervision during which the individual has several responsibilities:

  • don’t commit a new criminal offense
  • pay between $1,500 and $2,500 in supervision fees (by making monthly payments)
  • report in monthly, generally via email or telephone
  • perform one day of community service
  • participate in any court-ordered counseling

Upon successful completion of the ARD program, the court will dismiss the charges and your attorney can file to have your record expunged, or wiped clean.

How can I be charged when there is no evidence against me?

If there really is no evidence, then you won’t be charged in the first place, or at the very least the case should be easily dismissed at the first hearing.

Unfortunately, what counts as evidence in court is broader than most people think it is. Evidence includes the obvious things: photographs, eyewitnesses, physical objects. Evidence is also less tangible things, like the testimony of a witness. The witness might even be a person of poor character. Nonetheless, people are charged on the basis of the word of one person all the time. Even worse, if the witness changes his or her story later, the case may still carry on!

Does it matter that I have never been in trouble before?

Generally, this matters less the more serious the offense. If you are charged with a serious felony, adult or juvenile, the prosecutor is far more concerned with community protection and punishment. In less serious offenses, like misdemeanors, it can help you to obtain more lenient treatment from the court or prosecutor. In the domestic violence arena, if you are arrested or charged with domestic violence, the police will question the alleged victim about prior uncharged incidents and this can influence a prosecutor in how hard they prosecute. But the bottom line is it is much better to have never been in trouble before than to have been in trouble.

If you have no prior offenses and are charged with a misdemeanor like Driving Under the Influence or Possession of Marijuana for Personal Use, you may qualify for a pretrial diversionary program like Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD).

Since I’ve been charged, does that mean I’m going to jail?

Not necessarily! All criminal charges carry the possibility of jail time. Except for a few minor offenses, when you are charged your liberty is on the line. That being said, in most misdemeanors and in most juvenile cases, it is possible to avoid jail. On the other hand, felonies are more troubling. The stakes are higher, but an experienced attorney will be able to give you an honest evaluation and the prospect of jail time.

Will this go on my record?

If you have already been charged in court or if a protection order has been filed, then there is already a record. A record is a document or database that contains information. Some records are private, but most are public. Court records are public.

This information is readily available on the internet. So yes, court proceedings, criminal or civil result in the creation of a public record. It is more about WHAT goes on that record rather than whether a record exists at all. If there is a court proceeding already a matter of record, it is best that the record ends in a favorable way to you – not guilty, charge dismissed, petition dismissed, etc.

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