Misconceptions about the Criminal Process
Because people watch a lot of police shows on TV, some people, especially those charged with DUI, often tell me the arresting officer did not read them their Miranda Rights. They do not realize that it would be rare for the police to be required to read the person their Miranda Rights for a DUI arrest.
Police are only required to read the person their Miranda Rights while in custody, meaning either in jail or another confined setting, or if they detain that person in a way that makes them not free to leave, such as if they were in handcuffs or blocked or trapped by the police.
Even then, police will only be required to read the person those rights if they are asking questions that might be incriminating. There is no need to read the Miranda Rights if the police just arrested the person for DUI and didn’t ask any potentially incriminating questions.
In virtually any case, failure to read Miranda Rights is not grounds for an automatic dismissal. There are situations in which police violated the person’s Miranda Rights by questioning them while in custody, but the case was not thrown out.
If that happens, it’s possible for a defendant to file a motion to suppress those statements and not have those particular statements used against them in court. Whether or not the case is thrown out will depend on the other evidence and whether it was strong enough to withstand the loss of those statements. The only time such a case would probably get thrown out is if the only evidence was the person’s confession and that was thrown out.
Should I Represent Myself?
Representing yourself is almost always the worst idea possible. Even attorneys hire other attorneys to represent them when they face charges. If you wouldn’t perform major surgery on yourself, then don’t represent yourself in court.
Judges won’t treat the client representing themselves favorably, so if they’re unfamiliar with courtroom procedure or the language or the nuances of court, they won’t help them, especially if they slow down the process, and the judge has to constantly teach the defendant.
Should I Plead Guilty And Throw Myself on the Mercy of the Court?
Anyone who simply gives up, pleads guilty and throws themselves on the mercy of the court may actually be missing something that could improve their case or dismiss it completely. While there is no guarantee that’s the case, without looking into it, they are giving themselves zero percent chance to improve their situation.
For example, in many cases judges in Sonoma County won’t give someone who pleads guilty a break, even for their first offense, because there are lots of mandatory sentencing laws and mandatory fines out there; someone begging for a shorter sentence or a lower fine won’t work.
On the other hand, there may be a legal technicality that someone could overlook, but that an expungement attorney might catch and use to improve that person’s case or sentence, or possibly to get the case dismissed. That doesn’t happen every time, but it’s worth a try.
By not hiring an attorney and simply putting themselves at the mercy of the court, a defendant may be giving up any chance to improve their situation, which could mean jail time, a longer sentence, a higher fine, a long probation, and the loss of many future opportunities.
Being Charged is not the End of the World
People, especially those who have never been in the criminal justice system before, can often feel overwhelmed when they’re arrested and charged with a crime. There is often a feeling of panic, a lot of stress and worry, but all of that is natural.
Often, the process unfolds in favor of the client so no one should ever give up simply because they have been arrested or charged, even for a serious crime. People become a little more relaxed as the process plays out because they start seeing greater possible options and greater possible outcomes than when they first went to their attorney, panicked and stressed about their situation.
Will I Go To Jail?
Though many people assume they will go to jail or prison if they’re arrested for a misdemeanor or even some felonies that is not always the case. There is a good chance that someone with no criminal history who is charged with a misdemeanor will never have to serve time in a jail setting. In fact, it’s rare in Sonoma County for those charged with non-violent misdemeanors or most first-time offenses to be sent to jail.
Is the Arrest Record Permanent?
Another misconception many have is that any arrest and conviction, whether for a misdemeanor or a felony, is permanent. People fear that a conviction will appear on their record and will never go away, which isn’t always true.
After you have completed your case and served your time, whether for a misdemeanor or a felony, there is a process in most cases in which the person can ask that the case be expunged. An expungement means the person gets to withdraw their original guilty or no contest plea and enter a plea of not guilty so that the case can be dismissed. That way, in the future the case shows on the record as a dismissed case instead of a conviction.
Many people also believe they will never again be able to vote because of their felony conviction, which is also not true. The only felons in California who are precluded from voting are those who are actually serving time in a state prison or who are on parole. Those who merely have a felony conviction are still legally able to vote.
A lot of people fear that any brush with the criminal justice system will leave a permanent scar, but that’s not necessarily always the case.
Why Settle Before A Trial?
Most often, when a person decides to settle a case, the district attorney has a lot of evidence and the defendant doesn’t want to risk going to trial and being convicted of all charges presented against them. If someone has five different charges against them and they and their counsel believe the DA could prove most or all of them, they will probably ask the DA for an offer to settle the case. The DA will often offer a deal, asking them to plead guilty to less charges in return for dismissing the other charges and a reduced sentence. It often makes sense for most people to take that deal and the plea bargain that was offered to them in order to avoid the risk of trial and a greater sentence.
The vast majority of misdemeanor cases never go to trial, even if they show up in court for the first few appearances and decide to plead not guilty. That’s because, in most cases, there will usually be some sort of resolution short of a jury trial.
After an Arrest, How Public is a Case?
Any case filed in the court is a matter of public record, so anybody who knew what they were looking for could find out about it from the clerk’s office. That said; the Sonoma County clerk’s office is not as advanced as some other counties when it comes to finding information online. The only cases publicly accessible on the Sonoma County court clerk’s office website is a list of cases on the calendar for that particular day, and all that’s listed there is the case number and charge. In other words, a case is probably not as public as many fear.
In some cases, the online version of the local newspaper runs a daily arrest log from around the county, so a person’s name may pop up there and unfortunately there is no way to block the person’s name from that. Arrests and charges are public record so anyone who was really looking for that would be able to find it.
Other than those cases, a person should be able to keep everything quiet. Other than the DMV finding out about a DUI, most people would not find out about a run-of-the-mill DUI through the internet or the access in our county.
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