Q. Do I need a lawyer even if I am innocent?
A. Every criminal defendant should have an attorney because innocent people can and do end up in prison. When you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney, your lawyer will use the criminal justice process to ensure that your rights are protected and that the truth about your innocence prevails.
Q. If I am going to plead guilty, do I need a lawyer?
A. Even if you are guilty, you still have options. You may be able to reach an agreement with the prosecutor where you will plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a less severe sentence.
You can attempt to negotiate with the prosecutor yourself, but without a detailed knowledge of the law, as well as years of experience, it can be very difficult. A criminal defense attorney is more likely to know what constitutes a good agreement and will also know how to protect your constitutional rights.
Q. Who is a prosecutor? Is a prosecutor different from the police?
A. A prosecutor is a lawyer who represents a governmental entity that charged you with a crime. In this situation, they serve as the government’s investigators.
Prosecutors decide whether or not to charge a person with a crime and will present the government’s case if it goes to trial. Prosecutors may also be known as city attorneys, county attorneys, state’s attorneys or district attorneys.
Q. How does the prosecutor decide whether or not to charge a person with a crime?
A. The prosecutor will first determine if the government has a legally sound case. If, for example, during the investigation the police violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, evidence obtained by the police could be inadmissible.
The prosecutor will then determine if a conviction is probable based on the evidence available. If the evidence is not very convincing, it may not be worth the time and expense to conduct a trial.
Because a criminal case is only between the government and the accused, the prosecutor is not obligated to follow a victim’s desire to charge a person with a crime. However, it is common for the prosecutors to take a victim’s desires into account when determining whether to charge a person with a crime.
Q. What is a grand jury?
A. A grand jury investigates a crime by listening to testimony, examining documents and considering other evidence. The prosecutor both presents evidence to the grand jury and serves as a legal adviser. Unlike a jury trial, a grand jury only considers evidence presented by the prosecutor. If you are under investigation by a grand jury, you should have a criminal defense lawyer early in the process even though a defense case will not be presented.
The grand jury’s sole purpose is to determine whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime. This is known as an indictment. When a grand jury indicts a person, that person has only been charged with a crime. A trial is still necessary to determine if that person is guilty.
Q. What happens if I only attempt to commit a crime?
A. Attempting a crime in many jurisdictions is itself a crime. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to commit the crime and that the defendant took action beyond planning to commit the crime.
Q. What is restitution?
A. Restitution is when a person is ordered to pay money to the victim of a crime they have been convicted of. Restitution is required after any violent crime and certain other offenses under many state and federal laws, in particular the federal Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996.
Q. What are “white collar” crimes?
A. “White collar” crime is a term used to describe crimes that typically involve deceit or concealment to obtain property, services or business advantage. Securities fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement are all examples of “white collar” crimes.