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Those accused of crimes have a number of rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. These rights include: the right to remain silent in order to avoid self-incrimination, the right to competent legal representation, the right to reasonable bail, right to a fair and public trial, right to be informed of the charges against you, the right to be confronted with the witnesses against you and to gather witnesses of your own, and a number of other rights.
A criminal defendant is also presumed innocent until proven guilty. This means the prosecutor has the burden of proving (beyond a reasonable doubt) you committed the criminal act(s) in question. This also means a defendant does not have to do anything or say anything to prove s/he is innocent.
There are also laws regarding search and seizure which require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before they are allowed to search a specific place, at a specific time, for specific persons, evidence, contraband, and/or other items. It is important to keep in mind there are some circumstance where police do not need a warrant to search and/or arrest you.
If you have been arrested, answer all questions about your identification-- such as name, address, and birth date-- truthfully. While you have the right to refrain from answering self-incriminating questions, lying is never a good idea. Giving officers a hard time during the arrest process is also not very beneficial. It usually just makes things tougher on you.
Try to gather as much information as possible about the arrest and write it down. The following questions may be useful: What is the name, birth date, and social security number of the arrested person? What has s/he been charged with? What law enforcement agency made the arrest? Where is the arrested person being held? Has bail been set and, if so, what is the amount?
If bail has been set, the only way to get the person out of jail is to pay the bond for his/her release. A bail bond is like insurance; it means that the suspect agrees to appear at all subsequent legal proceedings. Failure to do so can result in forfeiture of the bond, the issuance of an arrest warrant, and the loss of subsequent bail privileges. In certain criminal cases bail may be denied. If the judge believes there is a high risk, the defendant will flee, or if s/he has been charged with a serious crime like murder, bail may be denied.
The importance of competent legal representation is so great that the Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant the right to an attorney. A criminal attorney is your best asset after being charged with a crime. This expert knows the laws and court customs relevant to your case, and can apply this knowledge to protect and maximize your legal interests. No matter what your legal situation, a criminal attorney will help you more than you could help yourself by going it alone. In fact, most judges won''t even consider a plea bargain from a defendant without legal representation.
Most crimes are divided into two categories, based on the severity of the crime: misdemeanor and felony. State law governs which crimes are considered more serious than others. Generally speaking, a misdemeanor crime is one where the maximum penalty is one year or less in state prison.
A felony crime is a more serious crime that can result in jail or prison time for more than one year. Felony charges also bring a number of other legal repercussions if the defendant is convicted. In some states, under certain circumstances, a crime can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specifics of the case. A qualified attorney can maximize your chance that your crime is charged as a lesser offense.
When a fine is the punishment for a legal violation, the action is considered an infarction rather than a criminal offense. For example, a parking ticket is an infarction rather than a criminal charge. In some cases, however, a crime may only receive a fine and it will still be counted as a misdemeanor. For example, possessing a small amount of marijuana for personal use in some states may be a misdemeanor punishable by fine.
Sentencing can vary depending on the location of the case, the crime, the judge (and sometimes jury), and other specifics of the criminal case. In some cases a punishment for a particular crime is governed by the federal sentencing guidelines, and the judge does not have a big impact on determining the punishment. In other cases, the sentence is up to the judge''s discretion, who will take a variety of factors into account when determining a convicted offender''s punishment.
The most common punishments for a criminal conviction include: incarceration (in jail, prison, or another detention facility), punitive fines, restitution (compensation to the victim), probation, and community service. There are a variety of other penalties that may be more specific to the criminal case. For example, if you are convicted of a DUI or DWI you may be required to attend a DUI school or a drug/alcohol treatment program, have a Breathalyzer installed in your vehicle, face driving sanctions, and more.