First Things First: What to Do When Charged with a Crime
The purpose of this post is to help walk you through the very first steps in dealing with criminal charges. Being charged with a crime is a life-altering event. You or your loved one will be placed on bail with limitations and restrictions. You could ultimately be sent to jail or prison (there is a difference). A conviction could impact all sorts of other parts of life—employment, future employment, professional licenses, and one’s driver’s license. This means that making your first moves correctly is exceptionally important. Doing it right can make the case better. Doing it wrong can make the case vastly worse.
Here are three practical steps you should take at the start of a criminal case:
If you have already been arrested, you should immediately and specifically ask for a lawyer. Ideally, you should tell the police something like this:
I want my lawyer to be present. I am not talking until my lawyer is present. Do not ask me anymore questions. Do not ask me to talk or waive any of my rights until my lawyer is present.
Regardless of what the police say and what they offer, you should ask for a lawyer and remain silent. You can give your name and address, but beyond that, say nothing. Giving the police a statement makes a case worse the vast, vast majority of time. As soon as you or a loved one is arrested ask for a lawyer and do not talk.
#2: Bail Out
If you are charged with a crime that is a class A misdemeanor or a felony you are entitled to have your bail set. Bail is payment or a promise of payment in exchange for release from pretrial incarceration. If you can make bail, you will be released. If not, you will be taken to jail pending your trial. So, if you are arrested, ask for a bail commissioner. They will come to the police station and set your bail. There is a bail commissioner’s fee, right now around $40, but getting bail immediately via a bail commissioner is better than waiting and spending a night or a weekend in jail so the court can set your bail.
If bail is something you cannot pay immediately, then you may need the services of a bail bond agent. These people pay your bail in exchange for a fee. There are lists of bail bonds services in every court house in the state, usually in the clerk’s office. You can also find bail services by searching the Internet or in the yellow pages. Be aware that a bail bond service will ask for a fee that is not refundable and maybe some form of collateral before posting the bail. The fee is usually based on the crime, the person’s prior criminal history, and the person’s ties to the community. Finally, be aware that if you don’t appear, your bail can be taken AND the bail bond service can hire a bounty hunter to find you and return you to New Hampshire. This can be an unpleasant experience AND failing to appear in court while on bail can result in a new criminal charge.
Being out on bail is important. Fighting criminal charges from the outside is a lot easier and less stressful than fighting charges from jail.
#3: Get a Lawyer
Criminal law is a very technical area of the law with lots of different rules, cases, and legal principles. Handling a case, even a seemingly simple one, on your own is not a good idea. Mandatory minimums for certain charges, an extensive list of collateral consequences, and an employer’s ability to search criminal records online, mean that criminal cases often have more at stake than a sentence. A good lawyer can help you win your case and in the event that doesn’t happen they will know what the impacts of a conviction are and how to lessen them. In addition to aiding in defending a charge, often criminal cases arise from mental health or substance issues and a lawyer familiar with local services and court programs can greatly aid in the sentencing part of a criminal case as well. Finally, having a lawyer ensures that the police can no longer talk to you about your case.
But I haven’t Been Arrested?
In the event the police contact you before you have been arrested, still ask for a lawyer and don’t talk. There are tactical and/or procedural reasons for the police to try to get you to talk while delaying your arrest. As such, don’t talk and ask for a lawyer. Also, you always have the right to not talk, regardless of whether or not you have been arrested. You can also ask to have a lawyer with you if you want one, even if you aren’t arrested. So, if the police reach out to you to set up an interview, get in touch with a lawyer immediately. In all likelihood, once you have a lawyer, they will no longer be interested in meeting with you. This doesn’t mean you won’t be arrested later, you could be, but it does mean that you haven’t made your case worse by giving a statement.
Being charged with a crime is a stressful, life-altering experience. Following these three steps can get you started on the right path in dealing with a criminal case. Though all are important, getting a lawyer is the most important. The State have professional investigators, professional witnesses, paid experts, and highly experienced prosecutors working day in and day out. Facing all of those resources alone is a bad idea. Protect you and your rights and get a lawyer as soon as possible.
If you have questions about a case or you or a loved one is facing charges, Contact Gottesman & Hollis, P.A. today!
Here is a very good page from the New Hampshire court system defining terms used in court.
Here is a very generic list of steps in a criminal case in New Hampshire.
Here is a video discussing on the Miranda rights.