If you were recently charged with a misdemeanor, a court date is not far behind. Speaking in court is intimidating, and you may do something you regret. These tips are designed to put you on the right path to help you get the best deal possible. People have come to me in the past and told me that they wished they had known these things before they plead guilty to their misdemeanor. Before the next court date, consider these tips to help you.
1. Consider Not Pleading Guilty
When you first go to court, it’s called an arraignment. You will have an opportunity to plead guilty at that hearing to terms set by a judge or a prosecutor. You don’t need to plead guilty. If you plead not guilty, the only thing that will happen is that they will set a pre-trial conference. This will give you time to either hire an attorney or further consider your options. It may also get you a better deal.
In Utah, speeding tickets are misdemeanors. When you show up for court, you will be asked to plead guilty to the misdemeanor and make some monthly payments. But did you know that if you don’t plead guilty at that time, you set yourself up for a better deal? It is possible, even with speeding tickets, to plea to something that will eventually be wiped from your record. The first thing to do is plead not guilty.
2. Consider a Plea in Abeyance
A plea in abeyance is a possible deal you can arrange between you, the prosecutor and the judge. The terms are generally similar. You serve a term of probation, pay a fine, do a few other things (depending on your crime). After 6-12 months, your crime will be dismissed. It is then a simple process to have it expunged and wiped from your record.
Negotiating a plea in abeyance will allow you to keep your record clean, which is desirable for a number of reasons. You can get a plea in abeyance without a lawyer. All you have to do is ask. The benefit of having a good attorney, however, is in their ability to convince a prosecutor if they’re not inclined. Many criminal attorneys also have a relationship with local prosecutors and often get favorable results from them.
3. Only Your Attorney is on Your Side
There is a presumption in American law that everyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proved guilty. It can seem like that presumption doesn’t really exist. While I have faith in the people who run the justice system, I do not trust them to do the right thing unless there’s someone there telling them what the right thing is.
With that in mind, make sure that you do not trust that the prosecutor is looking for anything other than to get you to plead guilty and get you out of the courtroom. Make sure that before you say yes to a deal, that you take the time to consult with a criminal defense attorney. You may be told that a deal is only on the table for one hearing. While there is a risk that they will not give you the same deal twice, the risk, in my opinion is small.
If you have a clean history, or a relatively clean history, you’ll likely get that same deal or a better deal next time.
4. If the Misdemeanor is a DUI, You have 10 Days to Save Your License.
After you are charged with a DUI, there is a separate proceeding with the Driver’s License Division of the DMV. You have only 10 days to request a hearing with the DMV before they suspend your license.
Although a license is typically suspended at these hearings, it is worth requesting one. You lose nothing by doing so, and you will get an opportunity to possibly get your license back.
5. Don’t Speak to Anyone Regarding Your Case… Unless it’s Your Attorney
You may have many people in your life asking you about what is going on, or what happened. It’s in your best interest to say absolutely nothing to anyone about the case until it is resolved. If this is a matter of domestic violence, you should probably stay silent with regard to the case to the victim as well.
The reason for this is that anything you say could be used against you. The city isn’t likely to expend the resources to find out everything about you for a simple misdemeanor, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Control the information and you control your case.
BONUS: If your spouse is the victim in the case you’ve been charged with, they can invoke spousal privilege to not testify against you. There are often times where spouses will fight and regret calling the police. In such situations, a spouse can refuse to testify.