Facing criminal charges can be daunting. Understanding the process can help ease some of the concerns.
The amount of investigation varies in criminal cases. Sometimes this is based on the severity of the charges, while other times it is based on the facts and circumstances of the individual case. For example, if police observe a driver driving 20 miles over the speed limit, they won't need much more investigation to pull the person over and give them a ticket for speeding. However, if they are trying to locate the source of fentanyl that has led to three deaths in the Seattle area, this may take much more investigation, as well as coordination with hospitals, emergency medical professionals, chemists, and others.
The most important thing to know about police investigations is that you do not have to talk to the police. This is true whether you are guilty, guilty of something other than what they think you are guilty of, or completely innocent. If police alert you that you are under investigation, the first thing you should do is hire a criminal defense attorney to determine whether speaking with police is in your best interests. Speaking to police without representation is never a good idea.
Once the police have investigated the case, they may issue criminal charges. This may occur in the form of police giving you a ticket. A criminal complaint may be mailed to your home. Sometimes the police issue a warrant for a person's arrest if they don't know where to find the person. Finally, you may be arrested. In all cases, you have the right to go to court to hear the charges against you. Attorneys commonly enter not guilty pleas early in the process, even if their clients are, in fact, guilty. This is because of the benefits of pretrial challenges, and plea negotiations.
The government is only allowed to use evidence legally obtained. Thus, attorneys review the evidence searching for constitutional violations that could lead to the suppression of evidence and the reduction or dismissal of charges. Areas attorneys can commonly challenge include the following:
- Stops of your car;
- Statements you make;
- Searches of your person, your car, your home, your business, etc.;
- Seizures of your person and your property; and
- Warrants executed, including search warrants and arrest warrants.
Imagine the police improperly stop your car because they don't like your political bumper sticker. Imagine further that you had three drinks before driving and the police believe you are intoxicated. The evidence of your intoxication, only discovered due to an improper stop, should be dismissed. The criminal case against you should legally be dismissed.
Legal arguments are challenges made “pretrial,” or “before trial.” These legal arguments let the lawyers know what evidence can be used if the case goes to trial.
Once the attorney determines the scope of the evidence, plea negotiations begin. Most cases don't go to trial. Instead, the lawyers negotiate for a settlement. Lawyers can negotiate the types of charges their clients might plead to, the amount of jail time the client serves, and the amount of the fine a client pays. There are things a criminal defendant can do to put themselves in a better or worse position during negotiations. For example, going to treatment and successfully completing it can put you in a better position. Getting another DUI, on the other hand, puts you in a worse position.
If the case doesn't resolve, it goes to trial. You get to decide if you want a trial before a jury or a judge. The state brings in witnesses to testify against you. The defense has the opportunity to cross-examine the state's witnesses, as well as call witnesses on your behalf. Police commonly stop investigating crimes after someone has been charged. This is one reason it is a good idea to get an attorney early in the process. There may be more investigation to do. You decide whether you will testify on your own behalf. This is done in consultation with your attorney.
If you lose your trial, and in some cases after you enter a plea, you can file an appeal. An appeal in criminal cases focuses on issues such as whether the judge made the right legal rulings and how that impacted your case. An appeal is a separate legal proceeding argued to an appellate court.
Facing Criminal Charges?
If you are facing criminal charges or have been contacted by police, call attorney Vinny Randhawa. He offers criminal representation in King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish County, Seattle, Washington. Call (425) 228-2202 24 hours a day, seven days a week to speak with Vinney about your case.