When the police investigate or arrest you for a crime, you could face consequences that will follow you for the rest of your life. The stigma of a criminal arrest and conviction can stop employers from hiring you and keep landlords from renting to you.
If you want to avoid these consequences, you’ll need to defend against your charges. This includes hiring a criminal defense lawyer. While you have the right to represent yourself in court, the risks of proceeding without an attorney are significant.
Here are some ways to prepare for an initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer.
Understand Your Charges
Your first visit with a criminal defense attorney will allow the lawyer to evaluate your case and provide some preliminary counsel. But to ensure the lawyer can give good advice, you must explain your charges.
If you have documents from the court or the police, you should bring them with you. This will help the lawyer to understand your charges.
With the stress of an arrest, you might not fully understand the charges that prosecutors have brought. The chaotic situation surrounding your arrest might make it difficult to figure out the reasons for your arrest.
For example, if you were arrested after a domestic disturbance, your charges might include assault, stalking, terroristic threats, burglary, criminal trespass, and other domestic violence charges.
Prosecutors often stack charges to pressure you into taking a plea bargain. Prosecutors may also overcharge you, only to reduce the charges during plea negotiations.
You may also have offenses that arise from a crime, even if you didn’t take part in it. In Kentucky, prosecutors can charge you with attempting, soliciting, facilitating, or conspiring with others to commit a crime.
Understanding your charges will help you to explain the facts that will support your defense. Your lawyer will need your help to investigate the prosecution’s case and find evidence that negates elements of the charges or establishes a defense against them.
Prepare to Discuss Your Future
Criminal charges come with many consequences upon conviction, including:
- Community service
- Probation or parole
- Registration as a sex offender
- Loss of voting rights
- Loss of gun ownership rights
- Criminal record
When you meet with a criminal defense lawyer, plan to discuss your goals. Understanding your goals will help your criminal defense attorney to plan a legal strategy.
For example, if you plan to enlist in the U.S. military, a felony conviction or multiple misdemeanor convictions can disqualify you from service. If your lawyer knows this, your lawyer can try to get the charges dismissed or work out a plea bargain for reduced charges.
Similarly, if you are facing sex crimes charges that could land you on the sex offender registry, your lawyer can try to work out a deal that keeps you off of the registry. This could make an enormous difference in your ability to rent a home or get a job in the future.
Start Working on Your Defense
Under the U.S. criminal justice system, the prosecution has the burden of proof. This means that the prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution fails to meet its burden, a jury will acquit you.
Theoretically, this means that you do not need to prepare a defense. If the prosecution cannot prove its case, you will go free.
In practice, however, you will need a defense. Prosecutors do not generally bring borderline cases to court. If prosecutors charged you, they have some evidence of your guilt. This means that you will need to have facts and explanations to challenge that evidence.
Some of the evidence you can use to negate criminal elements or establish a defense include:
- Witness testimony
- Expert testimony
- Physical evidence
Before your consultation, you can make a list of witnesses that can support your alibi. You can also assemble photographs that show that you did not commit some or all of the elements of the crime.
By bringing these materials to your consultation, your lawyer can give you better advice and start developing a legal strategy for your defense.
Make Notes About Anything Unusual
The police and prosecutors cannot violate your constitutional rights while investigating, arresting, or interrogating you. If you noticed any unusual behavior by the police or prosecutors, you should tell the lawyer.
For example, the police must inform you of your Miranda rights when they arrest you. If you do not remember receiving your Miranda warning, you should tell your lawyer.
Similarly, the police must stop interrogating you if you ask for a lawyer. If the police ignored your request for a lawyer or coerced you into continuing the interrogation, the police may have violated your rights.
If the police or prosecutors violated your rights, your lawyer could file a motion to exclude evidence or dismiss your charges.
Write a List of Questions
You should prepare a list of questions about your case. Even if the lawyer cannot answer all of them at the initial consultation, they can research the answer for your next meeting.
Some of the questions you can ask include:
- Have you handled charges like these before?
- What kind of outcomes can you expect?
- What is the worst-case scenario?
- What legal strategies can you use?
- What options do I have for a plea bargain?
- Should we take the case to trial?
- Are you familiar with the judge and prosecutor in my case?
- How long will it take to resolve the case?
Your lawyer can answer most of these questions based on the general information you bring. Make sure you have all the paperwork you received from the police or the court.
Meeting Your Criminal Defense Lawyer
When you meet with your lawyer, have an open and honest conversation. Hiding facts will create obstacles for your lawyer’s legal strategy. Your lawyer has the training to take positive and negative facts into account as they attempt to get a fair outcome for your case. By discussing your case honestly with your lawyer, you will get the best advice and representation possible.