Everything You Need to Know if You Have Been Arrested and Need the Best Criminal Defense Lawyer.
The day has not gone as planned and you or someone you know has found themselves arrested. Cramped in the back seat of a police vehicle, hands behind their (or your) back held together by the relentless grip of steel handcuffs. Now you need to know what to do to get them (or yourself) out of this. What follows is a comprehensive explanation of everything you need to know to successfully navigate the criminal justice system from the beginning of the arrest to finding the best criminal defense lawyer to getting the best possible outcome.
The Beginning: The Arrest
What NOT To Do When You are Arrested
1. Don’t talk about what happened.
If you are approached by the police or pulled over by an officer and the officer believes you were or may be engaged in criminal activity they will begin their investigation. Anything you answer, anything you say will be used against you.
A common misconception is if the police did not read you your miranda rights, it doesn’t matter what you say. This is not true. Your miranda rights only attach once you have been formally arrested. Even then, any information you volunteer can still be used against you.
If you are asked any questions, you may simply reply “I’d be happy to cooperate with my attorney present.” Rinse and repeat.
2. Don’t make a run for it.
If you make a run for it, best case you catch an evading charge on top of the original charge. Worst case, you end up with a bullet. Don’t take the chance. Live for your day in court.
3. Don’t resist the arrest.
Like evading, there is an entirely separate charge for resisting arrest. On top of that, your legal fees will be higher, the officers involved will remember you and put in that extra effort in preparing their offense report. Prosecutors as well aren’t big fans of people who resist arrest and are less likely to be reasonable when discussing offers on your case. If you resist you won’t when the battle and it makes it more difficult to when the war.
4. Don’t consent to a search of your car.
We all have rights, but we can waive those rights. The quickest and easiest way to waive your Constitutional rights is by replying “yes” to an officer’s request to search your vehicle. Don’t let them. Even if you have nothing to hide. It will give your criminal defense attorney another bullet in fighting your case down the road.
5. Don’t consent to a breath or blood test if you have been arrested for a DWI or DUI.
A typical DWI or DUI investigation begins with the officer asking you “If you have had anything to drink” and ends with a request for either a breath or blood specimen. You can and should refuse both the breath and blood specimen and can even refuse to do the field sobriety exercises (we like to call them what they really are coordination exercises). Don’t worry about consequences with your driver’s license, the truth is your driver’s license may never get suspended. Let your DWI lawyer worry about the your driver’s license. When you refuse the police may or may not get a warrant to draw you blood. Make them do it. You’d be surprised how often this process gets messed up, resulting in any blood alcohol level getting suppressed (i.e. can’t be used against you).
Pro-Tip: You can also refuse to do the field sobriety exercises.
6. Don’t believe the police.
Police can lie under the Texas law and do lie under Texas law. They are trained to know the elements of a crime and will get you to incriminate yourself, if you allow them. Remember, “I’d be happy to cooperate, with my attorney present.”
7. Don’t talk about who you know.
Maybe you know the District Attorney, maybe your uncle is a police officer. Regardless, the cop arresting you does not care and will allow you to carry on in the back seat of the police car while recording it all on video.
8. Remember, you are on video.
When you are on the street, the officer likely not only has body cam recording what you do and say, but also dash-cam in his or her police vehicle. When you are in the back of the police car this police video tools are still rolling. The best thing to do is to zip the lips.
9. If you are with someone else, have them video.
Under Texas law a passenger in your car or a witness at the scene is legally allowed to record the police encounter as long as they are not interfering with the investigation. Police don’t like bystanders recording, however it is perfectly legal to do so and can often be helpful to the criminal defense attorney you hire to fight your case.
10. If the police come to your home, do not let them in unless they show a warrant.
Again we all have rights. The police are not allowed into your home absent a warrant to search your house. If they ask to come inside, respond with “Do you have a warrant?” If they say yes, make them show it to you. If they have a search warrant, there isn’t much you can do, but let them in. If they don’t however, know your rights, and stand strong.
In the end, do your best to stay calm. This arrest will pass and if you play your cards right, your criminal defense lawyer may pull a rabbit out the hat and get all your charges dropped. Every day across the United States people are arrested. Often for crimes they didn’t commit. Know you are not alone (chart).
At the Jail: Processing and Setting Bond.
Your police escort has arrived at the police station (county jail). In bigger counties, like Harris County (Houston), you may first be brought to a smaller substation before transportation to the larger main hub station.
Once you are brought into the station, you will begin processing; and processing is S-L-O-W. You can expect to be sitting around for at least eight hours (likely more) before the outside air hits your lungs again.
After some general housekeeping, you will go in front of a magistrate or judge. This person will listen to probable cause (read by a prosecutor), determine if probable cause exists, and set an appropriate bond for the criminal accusation/s. It is important that you do not talk about your case or become argumentative during this routine criminal procedure as the procedure is recorded. Chances are you will disagree with the probable cause summary the arresting officer typed for the prosecutor to read. Don’t worry, your criminal defense attorney will have an opportunity down the road to present your side of the story.
Bonding Out of Jail or Posting Bond.
There are 3 Types of Bonds in a Criminal Case:
- Cash Bond: A cash bond is where you post the entire amount of the bond yourself. If the bond is $1000, you pay $1000. No bonding company is needed or used here. You (a relative or friend) are putting up the money guaranteeing your appearance in court. If you fail to appear for court your money will be forfeited. If you make all your required court appearances the money will be returned to once your case is complete (i.e. disposed of).
- Surety Bond: This is the most common method with the least amount of upfront hassle. Here you contact and pay an approved bonding company or attorney to post the bond. Bonding companies generally charge between 10-15% of the total bond amount. For example if your bond is $10,000, then you will pay the bonding company 10% or $1000. Unlike a cash bond, you will not get your money back once your case is disposed. Beware: Not all bonding companies are created equal. Some require not only more money or collateral up front, but more bond conditions (i.e. call ins, check ins, etc.) as well. Call a couple bonding companies or call a criminal lawyer who should know a reputable bonding company (if your lawyer doesn’t know a reputable bonding company, then they probably aren’t doing a ton of criminal defense work). As an example, I can name three off the top of my head.
- Personal Recognizance (PR) Bond: A personal recognizance bond or “PR” bond is based on a person’s promise to appear in court with no security (i.e. money) needed. PR bonds are becoming more and more common in State court as long as a person does not have a lengthy rap sheet or is not charged with a serious, violent crime.
Once You Have Been Released from Jail.
Have a friend or relative ready to pick you up, with the understanding it could very well be in the middle of the night. When you are released you will receive all your personal belongings back, along with your bonding papers. Your bonding papers will tell you when, where and what time your first court date is. This is important because if you are late or miss your first court date, the judge can revoke your bond, issue an arrest warrant, and put you back in custody
As a sidenote, if you were arrested for DWI or DUI you will also receive a temporary driver’s license (because the officers should have confiscated your Texas driver’s license). This temporary license is on the a form known as the DIC – 25. One of those forms, the DIC-25, states this is your temporary driver’s license. Keep the form with you for the time being and your DWI lawyer can explain more upon meeting with him or her.
If you were arrested for an assault type offense, the judge will sign a protective order as part of your bond conditions prohibiting you from going near the alleged victim.
Top 5 Things to Look For in Hiring a Good Criminal Defense Lawyer.
You’ve are now out on bond and have an upcoming court date. Time to find the right criminal defense attorney for your case.
1. Your Criminal Defense Lawyer, should be a Criminal Defense Lawyer.
That is, your criminal defense lawyer should primarily practice criminal defense. You would not see an orthopedic surgeon if you were having heart problems, and you shouldn’t see a family lawyer or civil lawyer with your life, liberty, and freedom on the line.
2. Your Criminal Defense Lawyer should come with board certification.
The Texas Board of Legal Specialization was established by the State bar of Texas and certifies twenty-one select areas of law. Of the nearly 100,000 attorneys in Texas, only 7,000 are board certified. This recognized specialization exists to acknowledge the most qualified attorneys in their respective area of law.
3. Your Criminal Defense Attorney should be active in relevant defense organizations.
Any lawyer who is serious about their occupation and in turn serious about the results achieved will be active in organizations related to their craft. In Houston there is the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. In Texas there is the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Nationally there is the National Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. All of the above organizations provide guidance, assistance and support to criminal defense lawyers seeking to obtain the best possible results.
4. Your criminal defense attorney should be able to show you results.
It’s easy to talk a big game, but in this industry, it is the results that matter. Ask if the attorney has handled similar cases. Ask if the attorney can show you results from similar cases. A good criminal defense lawyer will be able to back up his or her results. How long has the firm been in business? A good criminal law firm will have continued business because their clients walk away satisfied, and subsequently refer new clients.
5. How much is the legal fee?
The all important question and unfortunately all too often the leading reason a person hires a particular lawyer. Understand lawyers, like cars, come in all different shapes, sizes, abilities and price. While you should seek the best criminal lawyer you can afford, you should not seek the cheapest. You get what you pay for! Think about it, an attorney’s fee reflects the confidence in that attorney’s ability. If they are cheap then they probably don’t place much value in their time, effort, or ability. If they are more expensive, the opposite holds true. While you may not be able to afford the most expensive attorney in town, you should expect to hire the most expensive criminal lawyer you can afford. You will thank yourself in the end.
Criminal Lawyer Fee Arrangements.
Legal fees for your criminal attorney vary depending on many factors such as the nature and seriousness of the charge/s, the number of charges, the county the charges are pending, the stage of the charges, any prior criminal charges or convictions, and more.
The Non-Trial Criminal Attorney Fee
In a typical situation a person contacts a criminal lawyer because they have a warrant out for their arrest or they have been arrested and now out on bond. In these instances, most attorneys will charge a flat non-trial fee. Because of the stakes, and unlike divorce lawyers (hourly legal fee) or civil plaintiff lawyers (contingent fee), criminal law firms choose flat fees because they typically know not only how much work is necessary to get the required result, but also understand the client and the client’s family have enough to worry about other than how much a phone call to their attorney is going to cost them. Flat fees eliminate grey area and has proven to be the best criminal lawyer fee structure.
While it will vary from criminal lawyer to criminal lawyer, non-trial flat fees typically cover court appearances, client meetings, discussions and plea bargaining with the prosecutors, and pre-trial motions.
The Attorney Trial Fee
Should the case eventually get to where the prosecutor is not willing to dismiss the case and you do not want to accept the deal the prosecutor is offering, the case will be set for trial. At this time, most criminal lawyers will require additional legal fees or what is commonly referred to as a trial fee. Prior to hiring your criminal lawyer you should discuss the anticipated cost should the case have to go to trial.
Other Legal Fee Factors to Know
- While most criminal attorneys break their fees down into non-trial and trial-fees, we are aware of some defense attorneys who do not do so, choosing instead to combine both the pre-trial and trial fee into one lump sum.
- Watch out for attorneys who charge by the court appearance (e.g. $250 per court appearance). No reputable criminal attorney we are aware of structures their legal fees this way.
- Depending on the type of case there can also be additional legal fees in the form of investigation fees. expert witness fees, record sealing or record erasing fees, bond violation fees, pretrial intervention violation, deferred adjudication violations, or probation violation fees, etc.
- Lastly, if you have not been arrested, but have been contacted by a police officer and are concerned, a criminal lawyer may charge an investigation fee to act as a buffer between you and the officer. Often, if you retain a criminal attorney to contact the officer he or she may be able to keep charges from being filed or to convince the investigating officer to file less serious charges. While it does not mean your case is doomed if you have already spoken with the police, it is best to never speak to the police if you are under investigation or if you believe you may be under investigation. If you are caught off guard, it is best to tell the police “you’d be happy to cooperate with your attoney present.” You need not say anymore or less and you need to stick to your guns. Police are legally allowed to lie to try and get you to talk. Know your constitutionally protected rights and engage those rights.
If you have been charged with a crime, your life, your liberty, and your freedom is on the line. You should exhaust all resources to get the best criminal defense attorney you can afford. Whether you like it or not, whether you are willing to accept it or not, the truth about the criminal justice system is that it is a money system. Those that can gather the finances are able to deploy more lawyers, more resources, and more tools to defeat the criminal charges.
The Middle: Appearing in Criminal Court
Get to Court Early
Depending on the county and the location of the courthouse, parking can be difficult to find; security lines can get backed up; and elevators can move slowly. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to be in court on time. Arriving late can lead to the judge revoking your bond and putting you back in custody.
How to Dress for Criminal Court
The Judge, the prosecutors and the court staff all take note of the people in the courtroom. As such, you should dress appropriately for court. For men, that means, at the very least, slacks or pants and a collared shirt tucked in. For woman, that means pants and a blouse or a conservative dress. Think about what you would wear if you went to church.
What to Expect at Your First Criminal Court Appearance
On your first court appearance, expect things to move slowly. Parking can be a problem. Security lines can be a problem. Elevators can be a problem. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to be in a courtroom seat by the time the Judge calls the docket.
Your criminal lawyer will likely meet you in the courtroom either prior to or after docket call. Sometimes your attorney will have other courts he or she needs to be in before appearing for your court. Be patient. Your criminal defense attorney has not forgotten you.
Once your criminal attorney arrives, he or she will take a glance at the file, fill out an attorney of record (if it hasn’t been done already), talk to the prosecutors and then reset your criminal case for about four week.
The reason the case will be reset is so the attorneys can gather and evaluate the evidence. The burden is on the prosecutors and they need to see if they have enough evidence to actually prosecute.
Unless your case is going to be dismissed, DO NOT accept a plea bargain on your first court date. If your attorney suggests this, find another one.
What to Expect in Subsequent Criminal Court Appearances.
As the case continues and you continue to make appearances in criminal court, your attorney will be receiving more and more evidence for evaluation. This process, like many others in the criminal justice system, can be slow and to be honest, this is a good thing. Parties involved cool down, witnesses move, police officers get in trouble, lab analysts quit, a number of things can happen that can improve the chance of your case being dismissed. Be patient and trust the process. Your focus should be on 1) not getting in any additional trouble and 2) abiding by any bond conditions, such as appearing for court on time.
Eventually the judge is going to want to know the status of the case. At this point most of the evidence has likely been received. Your criminal lawyer should be pushing for a dismissal. If the prosecutor agrees the case should be dismissed. If so, congratulations your case is over. If the prosecutor disagrees, they will make an offer. You will then have the option of deciding whether you want to accept their offer or push the case for trial.
Accepting the Offer:
There is a lot more that goes into it, but in a nutshell, if you accept the offer you will:
- Go over the offer with your attorney;
- Review and complete the necessary paperwork with you attorney;
- If you are receiving something along the lines of anger management class and dismiss or drug and alcohol class and dismiss, you will be given time to complete the requirement and the case will be dismissed.
- If you are receiving pretrial intervention, deferred adjudication, or probation you will have to fill out additional paperwork with the Community Liaison Officer (CLO).
- Once the paperwork is complete and sworn to with the court clerk, you will then go in front of the judge to enter your plea.
- The judge has the power to accept or reject the plea, because of that be honest and be respectful. Don’t speak more than is asked or necessary.
- If there is jail time attached to the offer, you may be given time to turn yourself in at a later date
Rejecting the Offer:
You may decide it is in your best interest to decline the offer. Understand, that even if you decline the offer, it does not mean your case still can’t be dismissed. In fact, our criminal defense lawyers have received many dismissals a week, a couple days before, or even the day of a trial. This happens because the prosecution may have problems finding a witness, a witness may not show up, the prosecutor realizes they can’t prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, etc.
Sealing Your Criminal Record After the Case is Complete
Maybe your case is dismissed, maybe you go all the way to trial and are found not guilty, whatever the final result, you may be interested in cleaning up your record.
A nondisclosure order blocks your record from the general public (most employers included). District Attorneys, Law Enforcement, & Certain Texas Licensing Agencies still retain access.
For years a nondisclosure was reserved for those who received deferred adjudication. That is, those who entered a plea of guilty, but the judge withheld a finding of guilt and instead deferred that finding on the condition that certain provisions were met (i.e. community supervision). Once completed, a person was eligible for a nondisclosure, immediately for most misdemeanors and after a certain time period for felonies.
Today, not only can a person receive a nondisclosure after successfully completing deferred adjudication, but also after certain convictions, including Driving While Intoxicated, provided the person has no other criminal history. So if for example you received time served on a DWI (i.e. you get jail credit for the night you were arrested) and pay a fine, and have no prior criminal history, you could get that DWI conviction blocked from the public.
An expunction erases your record as if the arrest or accusation never happened. An expunction is typically reserved for dismissals and not guilty’s. So if you case was dismissed or if you went to trial and were found not guilty you can demolish any record of the arrest.