FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW
Q: Do I need a lawyer’s help if I am accused of a crime?
A: It is always in your best interest to consult a criminal defense lawyer as early as possible if you suspect you will be facing the criminal justice system. Whether or not you believe you have been wrongfully accused, an attorney will fight for your legal and constitutional rights and monitor the proceedings for legality and fairness. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for free legal counsel.
Q: What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
A: The traditional definition of a felony is a crime that is punishable by a year or more in jail. A misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of less than one year. Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors.
Since 1992, the likelihood of an arrest leading to a conviction has generally risen. Although some defendants think that they can “beat the system” on their own, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side is the best way to prevent becoming another statistic.
If you have been charged with a state or federal crime, you should know that the criminal penalties can be serious if you are convicted. At The Law Office of Ann Fitz, our defense lawyers represent clients facing criminal charges involving white collar crime, drug crime, DUI, computer crime, and juvenile offenses. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Ann Fitz are devoted to protecting your legal rights.
Criminal Defense – An Overview
Our criminal justice system can be overwhelming and frightening. The incarceration rate in the United States is much higher than that of other industrialized countries. Prison sentences are getting longer and more frequent. If you face the possibility of being accused of a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early in the process as possible, preferably even before questioning or investigation by the police. A skilled attorney can fight for your legal and constitutional rights.
Constitutional Protections for the Criminal Defendant
The United States Constitution and its subsequent amendments define the scope of governmental power and reserve certain individual rights to the people. The first 10 amendments, also called the Bill of Rights, contain basic, fundamental rights of individuals on which the government may not impinge. Many of these constitutional rights provide protection to criminal defendants in the criminal justice system. The Fourteenth Amendment extends substantive due process rights beyond just the federal system to criminal defendants in state courts where the vast majority of criminal trials occur.
The basic constitutional rights of the criminal defendant permeate every aspect of the criminal justice process. If you have been accused of a crime, whether federal, state or local, a seasoned criminal defense attorney can explain these rights to you and help you to fight for them at every step of the way.
Classifications of Crimes
Because the negative behavior regulated by the criminal laws varies from relatively minor to devastatingly violent, crimes are classified into levels or degrees. The classification of a crime reflects its seriousness. The actual classification of a particular offense varies depending on the jurisdiction. If you are questioned about a crime or are accused of or arrested for a crime, you should consult an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible. A criminal defense lawyer can explain the particular crime involved and its possible ramifications.
The Right to Counsel
The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to an attorney to anyone facing federal criminal charges. The 14th Amendment and some state constitutions also afford this right to anyone facing state felony charges. Those who are indigent and cannot afford an attorney have the right to have one appointed to them for free. Most people, however, do not understand what the right to an attorney means, when this right attaches or who qualifies for a court-appointed lawyer.
If you are accused of a serious crime, it is essential that you retain the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight for your legal and constitutional rights throughout the criminal justice process.
Finding a Job After a Criminal Conviction
If you have been convicted of a crime, you may wonder if you will be able to find employment. Employers are becoming increasingly concerned about knowing whether applicants have criminal records. Part of this concern stems from large jury verdicts that have been rendered against employers for negligently hiring people with criminal histories who subsequently caused harm to others while on the job. Another concern for employers relates to whether they will have to disclose the criminal conviction. For example, if a company is trying to raise capital, it may need to make certain disclosures to a bank. Will the company have to disclose that an employee has a criminal conviction for embezzlement or money laundering?
The laws about which criminal records an employer must or may access, what an employer may ask a potential employee and what the job applicant must reveal vary widely from state to state. If you have a criminal record and seek a job, it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney knowledgeable in criminal law so that you go into the job search fully informed of your rights.
Criminal Defense Resource Links
Equal Justice, USA
“Capital Defense Handbook For Defendants and Their Families” provides information and advice about death-penalty cases from the defense point of view.
ACLU: Prisoners’ Rights
Resource provided by the American Civil Liberties Union with information on national and state efforts to recognize and protect prisoner’s rights.
“Justice Denied” is a magazine devoted to helping people who have been wrongly convicted of crime in the US and internationally.
The Sentencing Project
A national leader in the development of alternative sentencing programs and in research and advocacy about criminal justice policy.
Prison Policy Initiative
The Prison Policy Initiative conducts research and advocacy about incarceration and criminal justice policy.