Idaho Criminal Defense FAQs:
How Much Do You Charge For A Consultation?
Nothing! Consultations are free and can be completed over the phone or in person.
How Long Do Consultations Last?
Typically, a consultation lasts somewhere between 30 minutes and one hour. If you are short on time, we can cut to the quick version and the consultation can be completed in 30 minutes or less.
Do You Provide Free Legal Advice?
Yes - but that is a loaded question. If you are looking to hire an attorney, we are happy to discuss your case in general terms and try to give you some limited advice. However, without knowing and studying all the facts of your specific case we cannot possibly give you a full assessment.
Do I Need A Lawyer? Can I Handle My Case Without An Attorney?
Maybe...People often ask if they need an attorney to handle their case or if they can do it on their own. The truth is: this is a question every person must answer for themselves. We cannot answer it for you. Everyone has the right to proceed "pro se" (represent yourself) if they choose. The court can not force you to hire an attorney. However, just because you can do something, does not mean you should.
While it is possible to handle a case on your own, it is probably not advisable. Just like we could... possibly... build a home on our own, the result is probably going to be much better if we let a trained professional do it for us. The law is complex. No matter how "straight forward" you think the situation is, almost no case is "simple". When you are charged with a crime your reputation, your future, and your freedom are on the line. By representing yourself you are taking a large unnecessary risk. Hiring an attorney can be the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony conviction, jail and probation, or a conviction and an acquittal. When your case is over, you do not want to look back and wonder if things might have been different.
Often, the first place many people turn for information when representing themselves is the Internet. Although there is a wealth of information available out there, every criminal case is unique and the argument or the result in one case may not apply to another. The law is not one size fits all, every jurisdiction has unique laws, rules, customs, and procedures - how a criminal case is handled changes state to state, county to county, and even judge to judge. Information found on the Internet is often useless, incorrect, or outdated. Attempting to use this information can hurt your case rather than help. Even if you track down the correct information, the court process and procedures are confusing and the courts are unforgiving when they are not properly followed.
Almost daily see pro se defendants (people representing themselves) sputter out useless and inapplicable law in court. They are frustrated and upset when they find out that the court has rejected their argument because they did not follow proper procedure or utilize the correct Idaho law. Truthfully, it is hard to watch. We feel bad for these people. Just because the constitution allows you to represent yourself does not mean that the court will treat you any different than an experienced attorney. You are held to the same standard as an attorney with 30 years of practice under your belt. No one will guide you through the process or take it easy on you because this is your first time through the system. Pro se defendants often end up losing not because they have a bad case, it is because they do not have the training or experience with the law, the process, and the procedures that an attorney would have. This may seem harsh or cruel, and I have sat through many cringe-worthy hearings where a pro se defendant, red in the face with anger and frustration, is yelling about how it is unfair for them to be held to the same standard as an attorney, but this is how the system works and complaining about it when something goes wrong will not change the result.
We also often see pro se defendants enter into bad plea deals. Often a large portion of our job is negotiating good plea resolutions for my clients. We only know what a "good deal" looks like because we have reviewed thousands of plea offers for our clients and have watched as thousands of other cases are sentenced by judges. Without this experience evaluating offers made by the prosecution would be nearly impossible. This means that a pro se defendant may think that the prosecutor is cutting them a break when they enter a plea deal when in reality they are being taken advantage of. Further, plea deals are often motivated by the prosecutor's likelihood of losing at trial - the more likely they are to lose at trial the better the offer. As winning at trial is very difficult for pro se defendants due to their lack of experience with things like the Idaho Rules of Evidence, the offer made to them may be much less favorable than would have been made if they had an attorney.
Abraham Lincoln once said "He who represents himself has a fool for a client." Our criminal justice system is not designed to be user-friendly. If you choose to represent yourself you may regret it in the long run.
We encourage individuals to contact an attorney before making this decision. Even if you do not end up hiring an attorney it is important to understand your rights and your options. During this time of crisis having a knowledgeable and trustworthy attorney by your side can be critical to making any important decisions. In the end, it is your decision whether you proceed on your own or with the help of an attorney; you have to do what is right for you. However, we do not charge anything for consultations so what do you have to lose by simply making a call and discussing your situation? It may the most important thing you do.
Can You Guarantee Me A Result?
NO! Nor would I ever even consider making such a guarantee! There is no set equation to determine the result of a case and we are not fortune tellers. Every case is different and it is impossible to predict how a case will resolve.
Will I Need To Be In Court?
Yes - however, there are exceptions. The majority of the time the court will require the defendant's presence at all hearings. However, if you are charged with a misdemeanor and live out of state there are times where we can ask the court to have you appear via telephone or through your attorney. In the end it is up to the court as to whether it will allow this request, but typically if the request is reasonable, the court is willing to provide reasonable accommodation.
When Should I Show Up To Court?
You should arrive ten to fifteen minutes early, unless your attorney tells you otherwise. There's probably no need to show up more than fifteen minutes early.
Do not show up late! Do not even risk it! Showing up late to court can result in the judge issuing a warrant for your arrest due to your "failure to appear." Even if you are able to rush in and convince the judge not to issue a warrant, keep in mind that you are trying to convince the judge that you are a good, law abiding, responsible individual - showing up late will never help you make this point. Also, in my experience, courtroom clocks run about five minutes fast. "On time" according to you will be "late" according to the court. Show up early and save yourself some stress.
What Should I Do When I Get To Court?
We meet our clients in the hall right outside the courtroom. Typically, we ask our clients to just sit on a bench there and wait for me to show up. If you don't see us and the clock is rapidly approaching the time set for your hearing, don't panic... we have not forgotten about you - often we are back in chambers talking with the judge or speaking to the prosecutor about your case. If you are nervous or if you are uncertain about where to be, go into the courtroom and wait for your name to be called.
Do I Need To Check In With Anyone When I Get To Court?
No. The judge will just call out your name and case number when they are ready to hear your case. You don't need to inform anyone that you've arrived.
How Do I Know What Courtroom My Case Is In?
This will depend upon the county. If your case is in Ada or Canyon counties your name will appear on an electronic board immediately beyond the metal detectors. If you can not find information about where you are supposed to be, ask the nearest public official or look for a help desk. If you can not find a public official ask the nearest attorney. Someone will take a moment to help you find where you are supposed to be.
How Long Will My Hearing Take?
Court hearings are run by a docket system. This means that several cases are scheduled for the same time. There is no set time for your specific case. The length of time your hearing will take depends on a number of factors: the county, the type of case, the number of cases on the docket, the number of cases ahead of you on the docket, the judge, etc. Cases are taken up one by one, there is no way to jump the line. Depending on the day a hearing can be fairly quick or quite lengthy.
If you have an Ada County or Canyon County misdemeanor case typically you will be in and out of the courtroom in an hour or less. Felony cases can take much longer: you should plan for 1- 2.5 hours.
If your hearing is taking a long time, keep your cool! It never helps your situation to stand up and ask the judge "how long this going to take" (which I have seen done before), tell the judge you have somewhere to be (again, seen many times), or to be upset when you finally get before the judge. No one wants to be there waiting, just suck up and bare it - You have been charged with a crime, the judge does not care if this an inconvenience.
Should I Bring Anything With Me To Court?
It never hurts to bring all your case documents with you; however, it is not necessary to bring anything to court unless your attorney or the judge has previously told you differently.
Should I Just Plead Guilty?
No!...Although this decision must be made by you, in most cases, there is nothing to gain by just pleading guilty. When a person pleads guilty, they are putting all giving away all their power and ability to negotiate. Pleading not guilty will allow a defendant to discover what evidence the prosecution has against them and how solid their charges are. In some cases, the evidence may be very weak and worth fighting in court. A resolution can also be negotiated for a lesser charge or penalty. The best course of action is typically to plead not guilty and contact an experienced attorney.
Should I Accept A Plea Bargain?
This changes case by case. It will depend on the facts of the case, the plea bargain being offered, and the effects of a conviction on you personally. While a plea may be a good idea in one case it may not in another. In fact, even under the same facts and the same offer a plea deal may be reasonable to one person but have dire effects on another. Only after reviewing the case, talking with the prosecutor, and understanding the cost/benefit to the client will an attorney be able to advice you about a plea deal.
What Is The First Thing I Should Do After An Arrest?
Take a deep breath - you need to be calm to make good decisions. Make sure you understand why you are being arrested. The best thing for you to do from this point is call an attorney to discuss your case.
What Happens If I Violate Probation?
A warrant for your arrest will likely be issued. Any violation of the terms of your probation can result in an arrest and even additional penalties that are greater than the ones you originally faced. For this reason, it is important to make sure that you fully understand the terms of your probation.
Will I Go To Jail If Convicted On A First DUI Charge?
Probably Not...Each case has its own unique evidence, and it is up to the judge to determine sentence based upon those unique set of facts. The maximum punishment for a first DUI is up to one year in jail - although this is a possibility, it almost never happens. In most cases, if you are convicted of a first time DUI, you will usually be sentenced to probation, a drivers license suspension, fines/cost, alcohol education, and some sort term of jail - 5-10 days is not uncommon. Typically this jail time can be served through community service or SILD (picking up trash on the side of the road in an orange vest).
What Is A Rule 11 Plea Agreement?
I often get questions about a what a “Rule 11” is and who is eligible to receive one? A Rule 11 plea agreement is a "binding" plea agreement. It is an agreement entered into by the parties for a certain sentence if the defendant pleads guilty to a specific criminal charge. A plea agreement under this rule binds the court to the terms of the agreement. In other words, the judge can not add, subtract, or alter the terms of a Rule 11 agreement. This differs from a non-binding agreement where the parties would each argue for the sentence they feel is appropriate and the judge would make the final determination. However, the court may be bound by the terms of a Rule 11 agreement but is not bound to accept the agreement - it has the power to accept or reject the agreement. If the plea is rejected by the court, any admissions made by the Defendant as part of the plea agreement will be withdrawn and will not be held against them in future proceedings. The defendant can then decided to proceed forward to trial or enter into a non-binding plea agreement.
There are pros and cons to Rule 11 agreements. The most obvious benefit is having the ability to negotiate your sentence without the risk that a judge will sentence you to something more sever after you have already admitted to the crime. Additionally, most people are comforted when they know what your sentence is going to be prior to appearing before the judge. Last, if you do not get the sentence you agreed upon, then you can withdraw your guilty plea and continue on to trial. On the other hand, in non-binding plea agreements the parties often come to a resolution that involves the prosecution limiting their recommendation to a certain sentence but allowing the defense to argue for less. In these instances, you may be able to convince the judge to order a more lenient sentence than you otherwise would have received under a Rule 11 agreement.
For the most part, determining who is eligible for a Rule 11 plea agreement and who is not will depend upon the judge and the severity of the charges. More often than not, Rule 11 agreements are found in misdemeanor cases, not felony cases. Occasionally a Rule 11 agreement will be accepted in a felony matter but most District Court Judges (those who handle felony matters) will not accept Rule 11 cases except in the rarest of instances, if at all. Some judges will not accept a Rule 11 agreement under any circumstances and some prosecutors will not enter into a Rule 11 agreement. In fact, certain jurisdictions around Idaho have an unwritten standing rule that Rule 11 agreements are not to be accepted, even in misdemeanor cases.
Who Can Dismiss A Criminal Case?
Everyone criminal defendant wants to "get their case dismissed!" While this is an understandable goal, most people lack the understanding of whether this is a realistic goal, what the procedure is in getting a case dismissed, or who has the power to dismiss a criminal charge.
1. The Prosecutor
The most common belief is that the judge has the power to dismiss the case, while this is true in certain situations the court has far less ability to dismiss a criminal case than another party - the prosecutor. This is an important misconception to correct because I often see situations where individuals come into court, admit to the crime and then ask the judge to dismiss the case because it is "not their fault", the circumstances justified their actions, it "really shouldn't be a crime" to do what they did, this is the first time they have broken the law, or they are a "good person" and believe they deserve leniency - The second these people admitted to the crime they dug their own grave. As explained below, a judge does not have the power to dismiss a case under any of these circumstances.
The party with the most discretion to dismiss a criminal case is the prosecuting attorney. The county prosecutor's office, on behalf of the State of Idaho, is the party who determines who should be charged with a crime, what crime should be charged, and is the only party with the power to actually file a criminal complaint. Thus, because the file the criminal case, they have the power to dismiss a criminal case. While the prosecutor actually has the power to dismiss a case under the circumstances that a judge does not (above), this does not make them likely to do so. Much like those who explain their situation and ask the judge to dismiss the case, those who walk into court and tell the prosecutor that the case should be dismissed are unlikely to end up getting the result that they want (and the statements you make can be used against you in the future). The prosecutor has filed the criminal charge because they think you have committed a crime, you are unlikely to convince them to now backpedal and dismiss unless you have an actual legal defense to the crime (aka - you didn't do it). Even if you have a defense, you better have something more that just your story if you expect the case to be dismissed - you are need to be armed to the teeth with overwhelming proof of your innocence if you expect the prosecutor to dismiss the case. While the prosecutor has the burden of proving your case beyond a reasonable doubt if the case goes to trial, you may be held to an equally high standard of proof, or higher, when trying to convince the prosecutor to dismiss your case.
In short - the prosecutor has the most discretion to dismiss a criminal case but this only actually happens in very rare cases.
2. The Judge
As previously explained, a judge does have the power to dismiss a criminal case case. However, it is only in very rare instances where the judge is the "finder of fact" - meaning, unless you are in a bench trial, it is not the judges job to weigh the evidence and determine if you are innocent or guilty. Prior to sentencing, the role of a judge is to enforce the law. Think of the defendant and the prosecutor in a case a competing sports teams, the judge is the referee. The legislature writes the "rule-book" (the law) and as the referee it is the judge's job to enforce those rules - meaning that even if they think it is a bad law, they can not dismiss the case - and it is the lawyers job to argue the facts of the case - meaning that even if the judge thinks the defendant is innocent they can not dismiss the case. The judge only has the power to dismiss a criminal case if proceeding forward would be violation of some legal right or rule. This involves them examining the law on any legal issue brought by the parties and making a determination based upon statutes and prior legal precedent. To summarize (I know this can be a little confusing): a judge will only dismiss a case pursuant to a legal issue, they can not dismiss a case based upon a factual issue.
In fact, even if there is a valid legal issue that could potentially lead to a dismissal, in order to dismiss the judge must also find that the legal issue is "dispositive" - meaning it is decisive. There are many legal issues that are not dispositive, even if the defendant wins the argument. For example, if a judge suppresses the evidence obtained during a search because they determine the search was illegal, this can be either dispositive or not depending on the evidence that is suppressed. If ALL the evidence against the defendant is suppressed due to the search, the legal issue is dispositive because there is no way for the criminal case to continue. However, if only a portion of the evidence is suppressed due to the illegal search, therefor leaving some evidence that could be used to support a conviction, the legal issue is likely not dispositive and the court will not have the power to dismiss the case.
3. The Jury
The last party capable of dismissing a case is a jury. Truthfully this is not actually a dismiss it is an acquittal but in most instances they boil down to the same thing. This requires the case to go to a trial. The jury sits as a trier of fact and it is there job to determine guilt or innocence. They are truthfully the only party that gets the opportunity to examine all the evidence and determine whether there is sufficient proof to find that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
*There are times where a judge may sit as a trier of fact rather than a jury, this is called a bench trial.I get it, most people don't want to have to go all the way to a trial to present their case. A trial can be stressful and take significant time/energy. Especially when someone knows they are innocent, they want the case dismissed immediately, they want this over with. I often see people become frustrated that they can not just convince someone to have the case disappear. Almost everyone who has ever been charged with a crime is frustrated by the legal process. However, the unfortunate truth is that there is no easy solution, the process is in place to make sure that everyone treated fairly and gets the opportunity to present their side of the story. It is not built to be fast or simple. If you are seeking a dismissal, most of the time you are going to have to present you case at trial.
Other Questions? - Give us a call and we can discuss any questions you have. We don't charge for consultations.
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