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F.A.Q's: Criminal Law

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Criminal Defense Law

How can I tell if I need a lawyer?

Generally, if you are under investigation for a possible crime, you need an attorney. As a practical matter, if you are asking this question, you have nothing to lose by asking us about it. We may set your mind at ease. Retaining a lawyer may also prevent charges being filed against you.

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What if I am innocent?  Won't I appear guilty - or at least uncooperative if I call a lawyer?

It doesn't matter.  Officers do not have the authority to "make deals" and they are not there to become your friend; they are professionals doing their job, and the law gives the police a lot of leeway to do that job. So while the detective, FBI agent, postal inspector, etc. on the phone or visiting you wants you to believe that he or she is or wants to be your friend or can talk to the prosecutor on your behalf, you should know that this impression could be totally false and considered good police work at the same time You have the right to remain silent at all times under the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution.

Your attorney can gain access to many facts pertaining to the criminal investigations that are not directly available to you. Your attorney can express your rightful concerns to the court and prosecuting attorney and should be able to explain to you the charges filed against you.

Your lawyer can analyze the facts that you may not appreciate and compare them to the applicable laws and penalties to determine what strategy is right for your defense.

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What do I do if the police arrest me?

Politely state your name and request the presence of your attorney prior to any more conversation.  Treat officers of the law with courtesy and respect and wait for your attorney before giving any information.

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How much will this cost?

An estimate of the legal fee requires at least an intelligent understanding of the facts. That understanding can be gained through the consultation. Defending a criminal action involves various costs depending on the complexity of the defense and the amount of time that the defense actually takes. Other costs may be incurred such as investigators, experts and Court transcripts. These items will be discussed during your initial consultation.

In general, the factors affecting the legal fee are:

The professional time that we expect to spend on your case,

the value of our judgment and expertise,

the importance of the case to you,

and the fee for similar services customarily charged in this area.

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What if the police don't read me my rights?

Outside of TV land, the police do not have to read you your rights. However, if they do not read you your rights after the arrest and before interrogation, then the statements you are said to have made could be precluded from being used against you at trial. But, if you testify and say something different than what you allegedly said in your prior statement, they can use the statement anyway. Many people do not realize that Mr. Miranda himself, was retried, convicted of murder, and sent to jail.

Certainly you should take note of whether or not the police read you your rights if you are arrested, but if you do not make any statements, it does not make a difference.

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What happens when someone is  arrested?

After being fingerprinted, they will be either released from the police precinct and told to appear in court on a future date (not common in New York City) or brought before a judge within a day or so after the arrest so that the judge may decide whether to set bail or release them pending the prosecution of the case. The fingerprints are checked for records of prior arrests and convictions.

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What is best to wear to Court?

Excellent question.  Dress conservatively and carefully for a crisp professional look.  Dressing well shows respect for the judge and the Court itself.  The tailored clothing and dark, businesslike colors that you would wear for a job interview are generally best. 

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What is bail?

Bail is the Court's surety that you will appear for your actual court date.  Bail is generally posted by bond but may be posted  in cash.  Bail bondsmen are listed in the Yellow Pages.

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Can bail amounts be reduced?

Yes, there are instances where that has been done.  Take note however, that the law presumes that the bail that is originally set by the judge at arraignments is the correct amount of bail. An attorney would need to be able to show the judge a "change in circumstances" since the time the bail was set or prove that the amount was set "unconstitutionally high". Judges in New York are given wide guidelines when setting bail.

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What happens to the bail money?

Bail money is held by the government until your case ends. Your money will then be returned to you (or the person who posted bail), generally minus a bail surcharge which covers administrative costs.

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Do I have to appear in Court every time the case is scheduled?

Yes, promptly unless told otherwise.

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Why can't I just get a free public defender?

You certainly can if you meet the qualifications guidelines of  the State of New York.  Some public defenders are extremely caring and skilled and you may be assigned someone that you get along with very well. You will not, however, have a choice as to the appointed attorney and are not usually allowed to change to another lawyer.



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