Top Five Common Mistakes To Avoid If Facing Criminal Charges.
In my line of work, I tend to see some things on a recurring basis. These are actions that an accused person, a defendant in a Maryland criminal case, either takes, or fails to take, that can and do have a disagreeable effect on the outcome of their defense. These mistakes can also hamstring the efforts of even the best Maryland criminal defense attorney in mounting a successful defense. I've been practicing law for 25 years. The missteps I tend to see criminal defendant’s make most often are:
- Not hiring a lawyer, generally
- Waiting to hire a lawyer until before just before your trial date.
- Talking to the police, generally, or giving a statement without first having consulted with counsel.
- Assuming that what you are alleged to have done will not be taken seriously by the Court
- Assuming that the State will not be able to prove their case against you, because there is "no evidence".
If you have been charged with a crime there is simply no reason not to speak to an attorney, and never any reason not to lawyer up before walking into a courtroom. If you cannot afford private counsel of your own choosing, the Court will appoint a lawyer for you. Criminal offenses, of course, carry the prospect of jail, but putting aside issues of your own personal liberty and freedom, there are additional collateral consequences attendant to any criminal conviction they can frankly have a more dramatic impact on the course of one's life than a few days, weeks or months of jail. A criminal conviction can have a catastrophic impact on:
- your ability to get meaningful employment
- your ability to obtain suitable housing
- your credit or funding and insurance, or
- your ability to get required licenses and certifications, or
- educational opportunities, and your ability to travel.
- your status in this country [if you are not a citizen of this country you may be asked to leave].
In my experience, it rarely makes sense for an accused person or an individual under suspicion to give information to the police without having a lawyer present or at least without having previously spoken to experienced criminal defense counsel. There are, no doubt, situations where an individual who is a potential suspect in a case giving vital Information to police regarding the “true” perpetrator, that leads to the closure of that case, and the arrest of the right person. That number of situations is outweighed by the risk that that suspect opens unwanted doors, and, wittingly or unwittingly, gives police information that suspect does not want them to have. It just makes sense to consult with a veteran criminal defense attorney prior to speaking to police at a minimum or to hire counsel to attend your interview with you.
A related subject involves timing. Once the decision, the right one, by the way, to retain criminal defense counsel has been made, the defendant in a criminal case needs to do so with all due speed. Over the years, I've seen all too frequently a desperate scramble, a mad rush to locate a defense lawyer, on the eve of a trial with a few hundred dollars in a pocket. That's likely to be an unwise and unsuccessful course of action. Few things done at the last minute turn our well. In my experience, I can be most effective in the case when hired early on in the process. I will then have the opportunity to investigate and explore the State's case, evaluate the evidence, and prepare your defense.
Few people have money set aside in a criminal defense fund waiting to be deployed in case of criminal charges.
Financial constraints are understood and accepted in this business. Having said that, the reality is criminal cases typically transpire over the course of months and sometimes years. Those accused of crime have ample opportunity to plan for retaining a lawyer and paying for those legal services. Plan early, and begin to implement your plan to hire a lawyer immediately. If you cannot afford to do so, any plan should include an immediate visit to the office of the public defender so that you, an accused person, are represented by a lawyer at your trial.
I frequently see and hear questions or comments to the effect of
“I only stole a few items and the store got them back”
“There really wasn't an assault because nobody got seriously hurt.”
The general import of these comments is that charges brought by the State should not, or will not, be taken seriously because the defendant doesn't perceive the situation as being a serious matter. Don't make the mistake. For all the reasons set forth above, any criminal charge is potentially a grave matter. Without question, there is a spectrum. An open container violation is not the same as an attempted murder charge. But don't make the mistake of thinking that because you perceive the situation to be relatively minor, that a State's Attorney, a judge or a juror are going to see things the same way. If the state of Maryland has undertaken the time, effort and expense to charge you with a crime, the people of the State of Maryland are taking it seriously. So should you.
Never assume the State cannot prove its case.
I frequently hear people say things like it's not a big deal because “the needed witness is not going to appear” or “it didn't happen that way regardless of what the police say - it's my word against theirs.” The thrust here is that the State will not be able to prove its case because of a lack of evidence. That happens. Some prosecutors offices announce conviction rates in excess of 90%. Presumably, that means that of every 10 cases that office chooses to take to trial- nine people are convicted. There was enough evidence in more than 90% of those cases. Don't assume that there will not be in yours. A related misunderstanding is related to the nature of evidence. If someone says they saw you commit a crime, that is evidence that you committed a crime. If such testimony is believed, it is sufficient to convict you. It may well be the case that with the services of seasoned, experienced defense attorney, you are able to punch enough holes in the State’s proof to create a reasonable doubt. It's generally not a wise course of action to assume that's going to be the case.
If the machinery of the State’s criminal justice system has it been set forth in motion, against you, at least someone in that chain believes that charges are warranted and sufficient evidence exists to support them.
These are a few of the major missteps and misconceptions that I see. There are countless others any one of which should be enough to convince an individual accused of a crime that it just simply makes sense to have an experienced criminal defense attorney counseling them.
-This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 11/26/20.