Do I need to hire a lawyer for a Davis County criminal case?
From time to time I receive calls from individuals who have gone to court on their own, representing themselves on criminal charges without hiring a criminal defense lawyer. While this sometimes works out well, it carries a real risk of turning into a disaster. Too often, these people are calling to see what I can do to fix the problem they have created. Below is a recent example of a common mistake people can make in representing themselves. (All identifying information has been removed to ensure confidentiality.)
Before you make a similar mistake, call us to see what an experienced criminal defense attorney can do for you.
“But it’s just a misdemeanor. . . .”
Most people would never think seriously about representing themselves in a felony case involving murder, robbery, burglary, or other so-called “serious” charges. But when the prosecutor has filed “just” a misdemeanor, some people are willing to consider representing themselves in court.
I recently received a phone call from a middle-aged woman who, up until a few months earlier, had never been charged with a crime. She found herself facing what seemed like a relatively minor misdemeanor charge in a justice court. She appeared at the arraignment hearing without hiring an attorney. When the judge asked her to enter a plea of either guilty or not-guilty, she said “guilty.” Being an otherwise good and honorable person, she felt like since she had in fact committed the crime that was charged, she should take responsibility.
She called me a few months later, after realizing that having a misdemeanor conviction on her record was going to impair her ability to make use of the new educational certification she was about to complete. The advisers at the school she was attending told her that most prospective employers in her field would not be willing to hire someone with a criminal conviction. She wanted to know what could be done to fix the mess she had gotten herself into.
The case was originally filed in the justice court, so she would have been entitled to a “de novo” trial or hearing in the district court. This would have given her a chance to essentially start the case over and do it right. But she did not contact me until after the period for filing a notice of appeal had already expired. So the option of filing an appeal was of the table.
For some misdemeanors, a 402 reduction motion can be filed requesting that the level of the offense be reduced to the infraction level. In this case, the conviction had entered at the class B misdemeanor level. A reduction to the infraction level would therefore require the agreement of the prosecution. Without the prosecutor’s agreement, the charge could only be reduced to the class C misdemeanor level. In either case, a reduction would shorten the required waiting period for expungement eligibility by one year. But it would still require a three-year wait from the end of probation before she could start the expungement process.
Ultimately, she should be able to have the charge expunged. An expungement allows a person to answer questions (in most circumstances) as though an arrest had never been made and a criminal charge had never been filed. But in her case, it will take some time.
Things likely could have turned out differently if she had hired an attorney.
Do it right the first time.
It may be tempting to try to save some money by representing yourself in a misdemeanor case. But in the long run, it can cause more problems and cost more money. Doing it right the first time just makes more sense.
In the case described above, it is very likely that the prosecutor would have agreed to resolve the case through a plea in abeyance. Under Utah law, when a plea is held in abeyance, it will normally not be entered by the court as a criminal conviction. Instead, the defendant is given certain conditions to follow. If the terms of the agreement are met, the case can be dismissed. The charge never enters as a conviction, and it can be expunged much more quickly than a standard misdemeanor conviction could be. (Only a thirty-day waiting period is required, whereas a class B misdemeanor conviction requires a four-year waiting period.
In the case described above, the defendant wanted to “accept responsibility” for her actions. Even in such a circumstance, a prosecutor may not necessarily be seeking a criminal conviction or jail time. Pleading guilty at arraignment deprives both the defense and the prosecution of the opportunity to assess the case and have a meaningful discussion regarding what “justice” really requires in the case.
In some cases, a defendant may be wrongfully charged with a crime that he or she did not actually commit. In other cases, the prosecutor may not have sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption of innocence that is guaranteed by our Constitution. Before making a decision to accept any negotiated plea offer, your attorney should take the time to go over the facts of the case with you, and to make a thorough legal and factual analysis to determine what defense strategies might be available.
Sometimes, prosecutors have filed criminal charges where no crime actually occurred. Even when the facts of a case are not in dispute, it is not unheard of for a prosecutor to misinterpret the legal elements of a charge and file a criminal case where no criminal offense has actually been committed. Reviewing your case with an attorney may be the best way to determine if this is happening to you.
Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney in Davis County
Criminal Defense Lawyer UtahNo two criminal cases are identical. This makes it even more important to have the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you understand what options you have and what defense strategies may be best suited to your case.
Stephen Howard has practiced criminal defense law since 1999, and has successfully handled cases ranging from homicide to complex white collar crimes. He has the experience necessary to help ensure that your rights are protected. Contact us today to see how we can help you.