Even in misdemeanor cases you may need a lawyer. Even the smallest criminal case can have drastic long-term effects. The risk of proceeding on your own is high and could be dire. I see people all the time that are run over by the judicial system simply because they thought they could handle the case on their own. It is not fair nor is it how the system was designed to work but the reality is that I would always advise consulting an attorney. Even if it is just a 30 minute consultation, I have no doubt that you will be glad you did.
If you are debating whether or not to hire an attorney I would suggest you take the time to carefully consider a couple of things:
1. The Process
The criminal process is winding, confusing, and filled with red tape and potential pitfalls. Your case may involve motions, court orders, hearings, pleas, or even a jury trial. In order to navigate this process it is important to have a guide. An attorney will be able to explain what is happening, as well as take necessary action on your behalf. This is especially true if you plan on fighting the charges against you. While you may know what argument you want to make, much of the criminal rules involve how to make your argument in the proper manor. If you try to submit an argument or evidence improperly it will not be considered by the court.
Even if all you want to do is plead guilty, an attorney will help the negotiation process. Most of my time as an attorney is spent negotiating a resolution that is agreeable to both my client and the state. Having an attorney in your corner can make all the difference in the severity of any punishment you receive.
2. The Consequences
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, the penalties can have a substantial impact on your life. Direct penalties for a misdemeanor can include: jail time, probation, fines and court cost, certain license suspensions or revocations (drivers license, hunting license, etc.), alcohol/drug counseling, expensive rehabilitation classes, and more. Unfortunately, many of these penalties are time consuming and cost significant amounts of money. For example – if you are convicted of domestic battery, you may have to spend 52 weeks in a specialized court, that requires participation in counseling and treatment. All that costs money! A fine in a misdemeanor case can be $1000 or more. Small case? Not if you have a big fine, mandatory classes and the loss of a privilege (like a hunting license).
There are also many indirect penalties associated with a misdemeanor conviction. The conviction will be reported to a criminal database that is accessible to the public. This means that anyone who performs a background check on you, including potential employers, leasing agents, and school admissions administrators, will know about your conviction. This can have a significant impact on your present and future employment opportunities, educational opportunities, federal student loans, immigration status, standing in the community, and relationships with family and friends.
3. Going To Trial: It May Be Worth The Risk
Often in misdemeanor cases, the difference between the prosecutor's settlement offer and the penalty a defendant would receive if convicted at trial is small. The difference may be a small adjustment in the amount of a fine or the number of community service days. Because of this it may be worth the risk to take the case to trial.
While going to trial is just one of many avenues you can choose in a misdemeanor case, it may be the right choice for you. Many people are bullied into taking plea deals because they have an unrealistic expectation as to what penalties would be if they lost their case at trial. Prosecutors often scare people by reciting the maximum penalty available under the law. An attorney can use their experience with cases similar to yours to provide you with a realistic approximation of what the penalties would likely be if you were convicted at trial. This information will give you a better idea of what you would actually be risking if you went to trial. In the end, trial may be worth the risk.
4. It May Not Be As Expensive As You Think
The number one reason criminal defendants do not hire an attorney is their mistaken belief that they cannot afford one.
Defending a misdemeanor charge does not involve as many hearings, as much evidence, or, quite simply, as much time as defending a felony charge. This means that hiring an attorney could cost you considerably less in a misdemeanor case than it would in a felony case.
Don't be afraid to call my office, discuss the case, and ask me how much it would cost for you to be represented. These are common conversations that I have every day. I will happily discuss potential costs of representation and explain how I came to that number.