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Criminal Defense Representation by Attorney Marc J. Atas

I will fight for you

Free Initial Consultation On Your Criminal Case

There are few times more important to hire a competent Baltimore criminal defense lawyer than when you are charged with a crime. Experienced in felony and misdemeanor criminal defense, Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Marc Atas represents clients with remarkable skill and dedication. Using all available means to ensure that his attorney clients receive outstanding legal representation and access to justice, Baltimore criminal attorney Marc Atas vigorously defends his client’s rights.

The consequences of a criminal conviction can be devastating. If the government is trying to convict you of a crime, Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Marc Atas will make sure that your rights are protected and that you are treated fairly. The Maryland State’s attorney and police are representing the state of Maryland, not looking out for your best interest.

The legal system can seem overwhelming and even frightening if you have been charged with a crime. Sift through the jargon and cut straight to the facts with this breakdown of the elements at play.

The Baltimore law office of Marc J. Atas handles all types of criminal defense matters in Maryland’s criminal, traffic, district & circuit court, including felonies, misdemeanors, drug, distribution and possession; all types of violent crimes, theft crimes, sex crimes, spousal abuse, domestic violence crimes, juvenile court and violations of probation.

Criminal attorney Marc Atas knows the criminal system inside and out. No matter what type of crime you are charged with, no matter what the evidence is against you, no matter what the facts of your case are, you can count on Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Marc Atas to defend you.

Criminal charges can result in the loss of your freedom as well as large fines and long periods of probation. A persons freedom is their most valuable possession. Do Not Take Your Freedom For Granted.

I Will Fight For You!

Top 10 Questions For Your Attorney

Let’s be honest: no one likes hiring a lawyer. It is considered by many to be a distasteful necessity of life. Contrary to popular belief, not all lawyers are the same. Asking these questions will help you select the right lawyer and, in the long run, save you a lot of aggravation and grief.

The questions below are from an October 1997 article in the Sacramento Business Journal and were designed to help you select the right lawyer and make your job easier.

What type of experience do you have?

Although it’s nice to tell your friends and neighbors that your lawyer graduated No. 1 in his or her class from Harvard Law School, it will not be comforting when you are in court for the first time and you find out it’s the lawyer’s first time too!

Obviously, it is important that the lawyer has passed the state bar exam and is properly licensed. However, there is no substitute for experience. Ask the lawyer how many similar cases he or she has handled. How long ago? What was the outcome? Get the specific details. If the lawyer doesn’t have experience, what will he or she do to get it? Is the lawyer willing to work with another experienced lawyer and learn? see attached article on how to choose an attorney

What is your specialty?

Some lawyers limit their practice to a certain area, which is becoming more common because of all the rapid changes in laws. Determine if the lawyer specializes in the type of case you have. Furthermore, the state bar certifies lawyers in certain limited areas (i.e. family law, tax, and workers’ compensation). Determine from the lawyer whether a certification for your particular area of interest exists and whether the lawyer is certified.

What will it cost?

One of the most common disputes between lawyers and clients involves fees. The main reason: poor communication. Ask, up front, what it will cost to handle your case.

Get into the specific details. Ask if your first visit is free. Determine whether you will be billed for telephone conversations with the lawyer. Although it may be difficult for an attorney to predict exactly what the fee will be, an experienced lawyer should be able to give you an estimate or range.

Ask about the billing policies. Will you pay an hourly fee, a fixed fee or a contingency fee? Ask about costs (i.e. filing fees, experts, court reporters, etc.), who will pay them and when. Also ask about whether the lawyer charges for copies, faxes, postage and long-distance telephone calls. If so, how much? If your matter will exceed $1,000, the lawyer’s fee agreement must be in writing. Make sure you carefully read the fee agreement before signing.

Fees in a personal injury case.

What references can you provide?

These include references from other lawyers, judges and especially clients. Past or present clients have valuable insight and knowledge about the lawyer and his services. Ask for client references and call them.

What is the policy on returning phone calls?

Lawyers not returning calls on a timely basis is another complaint of disgruntled clients. Ask how quickly you can expect a return telephone call.

How long will my matter take to reach a conclusion?

Ask about the process and how long each stage will take.

Will I be regularly updated?

Another complaint from unhappy clients is that after retaining the lawyer, they never hear from him or her again except when they receive a bill. Ask whether you will receive copies of documents generated or received by the lawyer. Ask whether you will be advised of contacts made by your lawyer.

Who will handle my matter?

If the lawyer works in a firm, determine who will be primarily responsible for your case. It is not unusual or unethical for a senior lawyer to oversee and supervise a junior lawyer handling a case. In fact, if your legal issue involves lengthy research, it may be more economical to have the work done by a junior attorney at a lower billable rate. However, ask so there are no surprises later.

Would handling my case involve a potential conflict with another client?

If a potential conflict exists, you may have to continue looking for another lawyer. If the conflict is not significant, it may be possible to waive the conflict with your full written consent.

Do you have malpractice insurance?

Under rules governing lawyers, the lawyer must advise you in writing whether she or he maintains malpractice insurance.

Criminal Defense Cases from A to Z

To someone unfamiliar with the legal process, understanding things such as record expungements and stets may seem as impossible as reading a foreign language. An attorney, well-versed in legal jargon and trained to use these terms to your advantage, can reduce uncertainty and simplify the process. Lose the headache and worry by reading these descriptions below and enlisting the help of an attorney.

Will I have a criminal record? How do I get my record expunged?

Any time you are arrested–even if you are not charged–arrest records, such as those with the police department, State’s Attorney Office or the Public Defender Office may exist. If you are arrested and charged, court records will be present regarding the charges filed against you from the case, even if you are found not guilty. Under certain conditions you can have all of these court records, including arrest reports, police investigation materials, court documents, State’s Attorney records, Public Defender records and appeals, made unavailable to the public by filing for an expungement.

If your case is expunged, no public or private agency can use the records of your arrest and/or trial against you. If your case is not expunged, however–even if you are found not guilty in a criminal case-your records will be available to employers when they do a background check, to the State’s Attorney when your next case comes up for trial, and to other credit agencies. Employers may be wary of hiring employees who have been arrested before even if they have been found not guilty. The State’s Attorney, upon looking at your records and finding that you have been arrested in the past may be less likely to drop charges for a subsequent case if he feels you have already been given a break in the system before. Because of these possibilities, it is very important to keep your record as clean as possible and to expunge any paperwork in the criminal justice system from your record, if given the chance.

This process is called expungement. If your case is expunged, no public or private agency or individual can use the records from your arrest or trial against you. This means that when you go for a job interview and the employer runs a criminal background check he/she will not see any entries and if you appear in court for later trials, there will be no record that you have been arrested before. You can request an expungement if four circumstances apply. These include:

  • You were arrested but no charges were filed. Records can be expunged in this case if you file for it immediately at the police headquarters.
  • You are found not guilty after the charges are dismissed or the State’s Attorney enters a nolle prosequi. An expungement may be filed in this circumstance if you file immediately after your trial date at the clerk’s office and sign an agreement not to sue the parties involved or if you file after three years, the time it takes for the statute of limitations to run its course.
  • You are given a probation before judgment, meaning you were found guilty but the Judge struck the finding of guilt and offered you probation before judgment to keep your record clean. In this instance you may file for an expungement three years from the date of your disposition, unless you were placed on probation. If you were placed on probation, you can file three years from the date your probation expires.
  • If, however, you are given a stet, you can file to expunge the record three years from the date the State’s Attorney gave you the stet. A stet is an indefinite postponement of your trial where the State Attorney doesn’t want to go forward with the case, but also doesn’t want to dismiss the case.
  • You were granted a pardon by the Governor. Records can be expunged in this instance five years from the date the pardon was granted. The only time you file for a pardon is when you have actually received a conviction. Convictions cannot normally be expunged and normally remain on your records for the rest of your life, unless you have receive a pardon from the Governor. Pardons are extremely difficult to receive and involve a lengthy process that can take up to two years to be successful.

With many potential outcomes for your case, it is imperative to seek a lawyer’s counsel to give you a better chance of avoiding a criminal conviction that will most likely remain on your record for the rest of your life.

How do I appeal my criminal or traffic conviction from a District Court proceeding?

If you are unhappy with the District Court Judge’s decision in either your traffic case or your criminal case, you have the right to appeal to the Circuit Court in the county where your District Court case was heard. Because the District Court is Maryland’s lowest court, you have an automatic right to appeal any traffic or criminal case for an entirely new trial, called a denovo trial. At that trial the State will have the burden once again to prove the case against you, requiring it to recall all of its witnesses and re-convince the Judge beyond a reasonable doubt that you were guilty.

If there were multiple charges in the District Court and you were found not guilty on some of those charges, you can file an appeal and keep the not guilty verdict on those select charges. The only charges that will go forward on appeal, then, are any charges that you were found guilty of. Remember also that if you intend to file an appeal in the District Court, you must not accept any probation before judgment offers from the court. As part of the condition for probation before judgment involves striking a guilty finding and putting you on probation, the Defendant must agree not to file an appeal. That being said, if it is important to you to have an appeal and prove your innocence, then you must not accept any probation before judgment offers.

To appeal a District Court finding, a written appeal must be filed within thirty days of the initial trial with the District Court clerk. That thirty day time period cannot be extended; therefore, once the thirty day period has expired, your right to appeal is extinguished.

As part of your request for appeal, you must pay the Circuit Court court costs. When you are found guilty at the District Court level and intend to file an appeal, you should ask the Judge at that time to delay enforcement of any sentence. In a typical criminal or traffic case it is possible to receive fines, court costs, probation and sometimes jail time. Unless you ask the Judge to stay enforcement of the sentence pending appeal and the Judge agrees to do so, it may be necessary for you to pay the court fines, continue your probation and serve any jail time in the meantime before your appeal is heard. If the Judge agrees to stay any sentence pending appeal, it may not be necessary to pay the fine, serve probation or start serving your sentence in jail; however, the decision rests in the hands of your District Court Judge.

A lawyer can be extremely helpful in getting the Judge to stay some, if not all, of the sentences pending appeal. Sometimes a Judge will stay a sentence but will require the Defendant to post a bond to insure his attendance at the Circuit Court level trial.

When the case is on appeal, you must fulfill the terms and conditions of your probation unless the Judge has stayed your probation. If you are found guilty in the District Court and the Judge doesn’t agree to stay your sentence pending appeal, you must serve your sentence while waiting for your new trial. Appeals can take as long as six months in the Circuit Court.

What is bail? Do I need a bail bondsman?

Bail is money that a court may require to ensure you appear in court at your scheduled trial date. It is the hope of the court that by requiring the Defendant, a family member or a bail bondsman to post a certain amount of money, the Defendant will appear for trial. Bail can be posted by you, anyone over the age of eighteen or a bail bondsman.

A person posting bail for you assumes full responsibility for your appearance in court and if you fail to appear, the bond will be forfeited and a warrant will be issued for your arrest. The District Court now has procedures in place where a family member can post a percentage of the bond, rather than the entire amount.

If, however, the Defendant fails to appear, the family member will then have to pay the entire bond. Bail can also be posted by a bail bondsman, or an insurance company representative who will pay the court the entire amount of the bail if you fail to appear. The bail bondsman normally charges you a fee of 10 percent of the total amount of the bond to guarantee that bond. When family members and/or friends sign a bail bondsman agreement, they pay 10 percent of the bail amount to the bail bondsman, to pay the bail bond. If you fail to appear, then the entire bail amount is due.

For example, if your bail is $10,000.00, a typical bail bondsman may charge you ten percent or $1,000.00 to post a bond. A bail bondsman will require the family member or friend to sign an agreement that if you fail to appear, he/she will be responsible for the full bond. If you fail to appear, after a period of time the Court will require the bail bondsman’s insurance company to pay that full amount of the bond, which in this case will be $10,000.00.

Then the family member or friend who has signed the agreement with the bail bonding agency will be responsible to repay the insurance company the full $10,000.00 that they had to pay because of your failure to appear. For this reason, family members or friends should seriously consider the responsibility of signing the bail bond agreement and should base their decision on sound assessment of the Defendant’s responsibility and the likelihood that he/she will appear in court.

Are there other options for posting bail?

A family member or friend has several options for posting the bond, aside from enlisting a bail bondsman’s services. The first way is by posting cash for the full amount of the bond. If you do not want to give up your money, several other alternatives for posting bond are available. The first alternative is to post property, either land or a home. To post a piece of the property, the net equity of the property must meet or exceed the amount of the bail. To determine net equity the court will deduct any open mortgages or ground rent capitalized at 6 percent from the assessed value of the property.

To post your property it will be necessary for you to present a copy of the recorded deed, any tax bills or assessment notices, as well as information on any mortgage. Each person whose name appears on the tax bill must sign the court bail form unless there is a power of attorney executed by both parties. In lieu of posting property, the court will allow you to post tangible assets such as a bank book, certificate of deposit (accepted at 100 percent of the stated value) and certificates of stock (accepted at 75 percent of the present value). Bail may also be posted by credit or debit card, although a service fee will likely be added.

Inherent advantages and disadvantages arise from using a bail bondsman’s service. When you are using a bail bondsman, for example, you are only required to come up with 10 percent of the amount of bail; however, that 10 percent is non-refundable. By extension, if the bail is $10,000.00 and the bail bondsman requires a fee of $1,000.00, which is the typical 10 percent fee, the person will be released from jail upon payment of the $1,000.00 fee to the bail bondsman and upon the bail bondsman posting the bail. The $1,000.00 charge will be lost forever as it is the fee of the bail bonding agency and a non-refundable cost of the service. Posting cash with the court for the full amount or posting your property, however, can result in a full refund if the Defendant has appeared for all of his court dates.

Obviously, if you, a relative or friend has the available cash or property and can be reasonably sure the Defendant will appear in court, it is better to post it than to obtain a bail bond. On the other hand, posting property can take several days, whereas a bail bondsman can get the Defendant released as soon as the bail is set. These considerations need to be factored in heavily when selecting the best option for posting the bond.

What are the different types of verdicts?

There are several possible resolutions of a criminal case.The best resolution in a criminal or traffic case is a not guilty finding. A not guilty simply reflects the fact that the prosecution has failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no such finding as innocent.Since the state has to prove a criminal defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, if a juror thinks you probably are guilty but has some doubt and that doubt is reasonable then that juror has a duty to find you not guilty even though deep down he thinks you are guilty. Even if the juror thinks it is more likely then not that you committed the crime, that is not enough proof in a criminal case and requires a finding of nor guilty.Even if the state has put on clear and convincing evidence, that does not meet the standard. By finding a person not guilty it does not mean they did not commit the crime it just means that the state has not met their burden.The states burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt is so high because the consequences of a guilty finding are so severe. A person can be put in jail, put on probation and have the stigma of criminal conviction for the rest of their lives.

Other resolutions of the criminal case are a guilty finding. Guilty findings often result in jail time. the more severe the crime the longer the sentence.Prior convictions can also effect the amount of time you receive in jail.Whether anyone was physically hurt vs whether it is only a financial crime. Is the defendant contrite or sorry. Was there a good reason for what the defendant did. What steps has the defendant taken since being arrested to deal with the wrongdoing. ie Drug program, restitution etc.

Additional criminal resolutions will be discussed in the next articles

Stet

The next best case resolution is a stet. A stet means a suspension of the prosecution. If the State offers a stet, the case is indefinitely postponed and placed on an inactive docket where it will, with any luck, never to be called to trial. A stet may be reopened by any party for any reason including the State, the witnesses, the victim or the Defendant within the first year. After a period of one to three years and showing good cause to the court. After three years, a stet may not be reopened and, in fact, the criminal charges can be expunged. Stets are not normally reopened unless the Defendant has subsequent charges, a similar arrest, or fails to live up to the conditions set when the stet was originally granted.A stet is not a conviction but it is not an acquittal either. If you apply for a job and they ask you if you have ever been convicted of a crime and the only involvement in the criminal justice system resulted in a stet, you can respond that you have no prior conviction and you will be telling your prospective employer the truth.While a stet is better than a conviction, the public can still look on Maryland judicial case search and see that you were in fact charged with a crime and therefore may still hold it against you even though there was no conviction.Therefore it is extremely important that when the three year period passes after your probation has ended that you apply for your expungement so that the records are wiped off the computer and no-one will be able to see this information.An expungement is automatic as long as you have no other convictions or pending cases after you received your stet.

If a stet is offered, it should almost always be taken, even if you feel you are not guilty, because if you turn out to be wrong and are found guilty, you will not be able to expunge a guilty finding.

Nolle Prosequi

A nolle prosequi occurs when the State decides to dismiss all charges. Once a case is nolle prossed it is normally over, but in rare cases the State may want to recharge you in the future. Other than a not guilty finding, the next best thing is a nolle prosequi because it results in dismissal of the charges.

When the defendant is clearly guilty of some offense, and the evidence is legally sufficient for a jury to convict the defendant of  of either the greater or lesser crime, courts will not allow the state to nolle Prosequi the lesser charge in a case, with the state hoping to convict the defendant for the greater offense.

In Maryland the defendant in a circuit court case has a right to be tried within a one hundred and eighty days. If the case is Nolle Prosequi and then the case is refiled, the one hundred and eighty days begins again when the new charges are filed. If the defendant can show that the state only nolle prosequi the case the first time in order to get around the one hundred and eighty day requirement, then the court will count the initial charge period and will likely find that the one hundred and eighty day rule was violated.

the decision to nol prosequi a case is solely within the discretion of the prosecutor. The defendant cannot refuse a stet and obviously since the case is dismissed should be thrilled with a nol pros even though again it is not the equivalent of a not guilty. It only means the state does not want to go forward either because the state does not feel it can prove the case or more likely crucial witnesses have not appeared or finally perhaps the interests of justice suggest the case can better be resolved outside the criminal justice system.

PBJ – Probation Before Judgment

The next best resolution is known as probation before judgment (PBJ). In a probation before judgment case the Defendant is typically found guilty, however, because of a good driving record or a relatively clean criminal record, he/she is offered .probation before judgment, probation before judgment  is considered a break given by the court to provide the Defendant an incentive to keep his/her record clean. The court usually strikes the guilty finding and places the Defendant on probation.

Barring unsuccessful completion of the probation period, the probation before judgment stands and the Defendant’s guilty verdict is never entered. Probation before judgments can eventually be expunged three years after the probation period runs out. If the Defendant receives a  probation before judgment he/she can go on job interviews and honestly answer that he/she has not been convicted of a crime. Further, if the Defendant receives a probation before judgment  in a traffic case, points will not be added against his/her driving record in the State of Maryland, because the traffic violation is not considered a conviction.

However when you receive a probation before judgment, you can be placed on probation. During probation, you may have to report to a probation officer, complete a drug or alcohol program, pay a fine or restituition, pay court costs or monitoring fees,complete school or obtain a general educational development certificate (ged) and you may have to do community service.

As part of your probation you must complete every condition the judge imposes on you including obey all laws, not get arrested, not be convicted of another crime, stay away from the victim , report to a probation officer, complete a drug or alcohol program, pay a fine or restitution, pay court costs or monitoring fees,complete school or obtain a general educational development certificate (ged) and you may have to do community service.

If you violate your probation, the probation before judgment can be stricken, the guilty finding re-instituted and you can receive additional punishment including additional jail time.

When are Miranda warnings required?

When individuals initially seek an attorney’s services they often state that the police officer did not read them their rights, therefore nullifying the arrest and the case. This, however, is not the meaning of Miranda warnings. Miranda warnings only apply to statements given by the defendants. Under the case of Miranda vs. Arizona, the Supreme Court stated that when a defendant is arrested he/she must be advised of his/her rights. Those rights include:

  • the right to remain silent
    acknowledgment that any statements could to be used for self-incrimination purposes in a court of law
  • the right to consult with a lawyer
  • the right to have a lawyer present during any questioning
  • the right to a lawyer, despite individuals’ inability to pay
  • the right to stop an interview with a police officer at any time
  • the right to be issued Miranda warnings and the right to have any statements made without first hearing the warnings deemed inadmissible in court

Contrary to popular belief, an individual can still be arrested and tried without receiving proper issuance of the Miranda warnings. The effect of not being read Miranda warnings is that none of the statements that an individual gives after an arrest will be admissible in court. Excluding statements that an individual makes without protection of the warnings, police can use all additional evidence to prove guilt. Police cannot, however, use any information that leads to evidence if the lead was learned in violation of the Miranda warnings.

This watershed effect is known as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” As an example, a man is not given his Miranda warnings upon arrest, but tells the police that he killed someone and buried the body in a certain cemetery. The police then go to the cemetery and find the body. In a case such as this, not only will the police not be able to use the statement that the man killed someone, but they will also not be able to use the body, because the fact remains that they would not have found the body unless the man himself told them where it was. If the police had properly given the man his Miranda warnings prior to his confession, they would have been able to use both his statement that he killed the person and the evidence discovered at the burial site.

It is not necessary that you be given your Miranda warnings unless you are in custody. If the police talk to you at the scene of an accident, the scene of a murder or any place where you are not in their custody and you give information, that information can be used against you whether you were given your Miranda warnings or not.

Please keep in mind that you are never required to answer any questions that a police officer asks you. You have the legal right to refuse to answer any questions. That legal right is guaranteed under the fifth amendment of the United States Constitution, which includes your guarantee of the right to remain silent. Should you have any reason to believe that you are a potential suspect in a criminal case, you should politely decline to answer any questions from a police officer until after you have had a chance to consult with your attorney. At that time, most attorneys would suggest that you not talk with the police department at all. A police officer does have a right to demand identification from you if you are loitering on public property. Failure to provide identification can lead to your arrest for loitering.

When you are stopped in a motor vehicle for a suspected traffic violation, the police officer does have the right to ask certain limited questions for identification purposes, at which point you have an obligation to provide your driver’s license and vehicle registration. You do not need to provide any other further information to the officer. If you are taken into custody by the police, you do not have to use any magical word to let the police officer know that you want to remain silent; this can be indicated by either saying nothing or calmly stopping the questions by noting that you want to talk to your attorney and don’t have anything else to say at the moment, or that you are claiming your Miranda rights. If police continue to question you after you claim your Miranda right, it would be a violation of Miranda and would invalidate any statements you make after that point.

Criminal Defense Frequently Asked Questions

Criminal Defense Attorney Marc J. Atas has compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions. If your question is not answered here, please feel free to contact us the question and we will be happy to answer it.

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is typically a crime that is tried in the District Court of Maryland which is Maryland’s lowest criminal court. Jail time is the exception rather than the rule in the District Court. Fines tend to be lower than what can be ordered in the Circuit Court. While you have a right to a jury trial even when charged with a misdemeanor as long as the maximum sentence is over 180 days. Jury trials for misdemeanors are held in the circuit court. If there is a waiver of a jury trial misdemeanor cases are heard by a judge.You have a constitutional right to have an attorney represent you in a misdemeanor case.

A misdemeanor is any “lesser” criminal act in some common law legal systems. Misdemeanors are generally punished less severely than felonies, but theoretically more so than administrative infractions (also known as minor, petty, or summary offences) and regulatory offences. Many misdemeanors are punished with monetary fines

A misdemeanor is considered a less serious crime, and a felony is considered more serious. A principle of the rationale for the degree of punishment meted out is that the punishment should fit the crime. One standard for measurement is the degree to which a crime affects others or society. Measurements of the degree of seriousness of a crime have been developed.

The federal government generally considers a crime punishable with incarceration for one year or less to be a misdemeanor. All other crimes are considered felonies Many states also employ the same or a similar distinction.

Examples of misdemeanors may include: petty theft, prostitution,public intoxication,assault, disorderly conduct,trespass.and first-time possession of certain other drugs.

Misdemeanors usually do not result in the loss of civil rights, but may result in loss of privileges, such as professional licenses, public offices, or public employment. Such effects are known as the collateral consequences of the criminal charges.

What is a felony?

A felony is typically a crime that is tried in the Circuit Court of Maryland which is Maryland’s highest trial criminal court. Jail time is the rule rather than the exception in the Circuit Court. Fines tend to be higher than what can be ordered in the District Court. You have a right to a jury trial when charged with a felony as long as the maximum sentence is over 180 days. Jury trials for felonies are held in the circuit court. If there is a waiver of a jury trial felony cases are heard by a judge.You have a constitutional right to have an attorney represent you in a felony case.

A felony is any “greater” criminal act in some common law legal systems. Felonies are generally punished more severely than misdemeanors, administrative infractions (also known as minor, petty, or summary offences) and regulatory offences. Many felonies are punished with stiff jail sentences and are followed by long periods of probation.

A  felony is considered a more serious crime, and a misdemeanor is considered less serious. A principle of the rationale for the degree of punishment meted out is that the punishment should fit the crime. One standard for measurement is the degree to which a crime affects others or society. Measurements of the degree of seriousness of a crime have been developed.

The federal government generally considers a crime punishable with incarceration for one year or less to be a misdemeanor. All other crimes are considered felonies Many states also employ the same or a similar distinction.

 

There are common law felonies including murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping and arson. In addition Maryland Law has added several statutory felonies and these felonies and are typically crimes that involve longer jail terms and higher fines.

If you are charged with a felony, you are entitled to a preliminary hearing in the district court unless you are indicted.

What typically happens when someone is charged with a misdemeanor?

When a person is charged with a misdemeanor they will either be arrested by the police or will receive a summons to appear in court without being arrested. If they are arrested they will be taken to jail and will see a District Court Commissioner within twenty-four hours. The Commissioner will then set a bail.

If the defendant is unable to pay the bail set by the District Court Commissioner, then on the very next court day, the defendant will have the right to see a Judge for a bail review. At the bail review hearing, the defendant has the right to have a criminal attorney appear on their behalf to argue to the court why the bail should be lower or they should be released on their own recognizance.

Baltimore Criminal Attorneys are essential during this process in order to present the accused in the best light and to explain to the court that the person has strong ties to the community and is not a flight danger and they are not a danger to the community. After the bail review, the defendant has a right to either pay the amount of the bail or obtain a bail bondsman to post the bail. The very next proceeding will be the court date.

At the court date the defendant is expected to appear with their criminal attorney and present their defense. The courts are very hesitant to postpone cases in order to allow the defendant to get a criminal attorney.

A Baltimore criminal attorney can be extremely helpful in presenting any defenses, including constitutional arguments and procedural defenses. Even if you intend to plead guilty a criminal attorney can be extremely helpful in outlining for the court why the defendant is entitled to leniency from the court. Baltimore Criminal attorneys can be extremely helpful in keeping jail time and fines to a minimum.

What is the process if I am charged with a felony?

If you are charged with a felony in the State of Maryland the initial process includes an arrest and bail to be set by the Commissioner. If you are unable to make the bail set by the Commissioner you are entitled to have a bail review on the next court date at which time you should have a Baltimore criminal attorney.

At the bail review hearing, the defendant has the right to have a criminal attorney appear on their behalf to argue to the court why the bail should be lower or they should be released on their own recognizance. Criminal attorneys are essential during this process in order to present the accused person in the best light and to explain to the court that the person has strong ties to the community, is not a flight risk and that they are not a danger to the community. After the bail review, the very next hearing will be the preliminary hearing unless you are indicted by a Grand Jury.

Whenever you are charged with a felony you are entitled to an independent review of the case by either a Grand Jury or a District Court Judge. If the State presents the case to a grand jury in a secret proceeding and the Grand Jury finds sufficient facts to go forward then the Grand Jury will indict you and you will not be entitled to a preliminary hearing. If the State’s Attorney decides not to take the case before a Grand Jury then you are entitled to preliminary hearing in front of a district court judge Preliminary hearings for felonies are typically held in the District Court.

At a preliminary hearing the State has the burden to prove by the preponderance of the evidence, meaning to prove more likely than not that a crime was committed and that more likely than not that the defendant committed the crime. This is a very low standard of proof. At the preliminary hearing the defendant has no right to present any witnesses. A criminal attorney can be helpful at the preliminary hearing in order to ask questions of the State’s witnesses so that additional information can be obtained in order to prepare for trial in the Circuit Court.

Occasionally at preliminary hearings some or all of the charges may be dismissed because the State does not have sufficient information to go forward with the case at that time. Even if the State is prepared and can prove their case at the preliminary hearing defense counsel can use the preliminary hearing in order to gather as much information as possible so that they will know what evidence, if any the State has before the next trial date.

Typically, the police report, statements by any of the witnesses or the defendant and any other police investigations can be obtained at the preliminary hearing. If the Court determines at the preliminary hearing that there is enough facts on the State’s behalf to go forward, then the case will be scheduled in the Circuit Court for an arraignment. An arraignment is the defendant’s first hearing in the Circuit Court at which time the defendant is told what the charges are against him and will advise him if he doesn’t already have an attorney that he needs to get an attorney for the next trial date.

Also, at the arraignment a trial date is scheduled and if a plea bargain can be worked out a plea can be done at the arraignment stage. If no plea bargain is worked out, then after an arraignment the case is scheduled for trial. A preliminary hearing is typically thirty days after the arrest and then an arraignment is approximately six weeks after the preliminary hearing. The trial date is usually scheduled anywhere from three to six months after the arraignment date.

How should I dress for court?

A person that is charged with a crime should dress like they are going to a religious ceremony or to a wedding. Appropriate dress for a man should include a suit and tie or dress pants and a button shirt and should never include shorts or tee shirts. Appropriate dress for a woman should include either a dress, skirt and blouse or dress pants and a blouse. Judge’s get extremely angry when people show up for court in inappropriate clothing and may hold this against the defendant.

  1.  Consider the image you’d like to portray to the judge and jury. Whether you are in court for a crime or not, you want to be portrayed as an upstanding, model citizen with only the best of intentions. Your attorney may advise you on what will work best, however some obvious rules to follow is to dress conservatively and present the image of a law abiding individual.

    • Find clothing that communicates that you are a reasonable person. Classic lines and conservative attire will provide you with the best opportunity to communicate that you are a practical person who is serious.
    • Someone who has a steady job and strong values and morals. Regardless of your case you want the judge and jury to see you as someone who has steady employment and a societal rule follower. This means you want business attire–neutral colors, conservative hemlines and clothing void of rips and stains.
    • Your clothing can help you tell your story. In a Wall Street Journal story a California judge said that how a client dresses may communicate the opposite of what they intend. For example, if a father comes to court dressed sloppy and he is before the court for child neglect, she said that kind of appearance may detract from his case. Or a women who claims poverty arriving at court in an expensive outfit may undermine her case.

Why does it matter what lawyer I obtain for my criminal case?

All lawyers, when they graduate from law school, have taken courses in criminal law and criminal procedure. However, once you graduate law school and practice criminal law, there are many new things that lawyers learn over the years which can benefit their client.

Law schools teach you the basics, but it takes years of research and practice to really know the criminal court system. It is extremely important for lawyers to be familiar with each Judge and what each Judge likes and dislikes. Some Judges are more willing to listen to all of the evidence and treat the defendants fairly then others.

Some Judges give out longer sentences than other Judges. Some Judges do not like certain kinds of cases and are more lenient on other cases. It is extremely important for your lawyer to know each Judge. Judges vary from county to county and it is important that your lawyer practices in the county in which your case is being scheduled in.

The practice of law is just that, it takes many years of practice before you learn all of the tricks of the trade.

  1. Figure out if you need a defense attorney. If you are facing a criminal charge, no matter how minor, you should seek legal advice. Even if you decide not to hire an attorney to represent you in court, a consultation can help you to understand the charges against you. Your attorney should explain the defenses available to you, any possibilities for a plea bargain, and what your next steps would be if you were convicted.

    • If you are facing a serious charge, it is highly recommended that you have a defense attorney represent you in court.
    • For a minor charge, you can consider simply consulting an attorney before your trial.
    • To determine how serious the charge is, learn what sort of charge you are facing. A felony is the most serious type of crime. Murder and armed robbery are examples of felonies.
    • A misdemeanor is a less serious charge. Shoplifting is a common example.
    • Infractions are the least serious charge. Examples include traffic violations
    • Decide what type of defense attorney you need. You will need to determine if you need a state or federal attorney. If you have broken a state law, hire an attorney that specializes in state law. State law cases include traffic violations, broken contracts, robberies, and family disputes, among others. Federal cases include, but are not limited to, cases involving violation of the US Constitution, cases in which the United States is a party, bankruptcy cases, copyright cases, and patent cases.[3]
      • If you are being charged with breaking a federal law, you will want to hire a more experienced defense attorney who will be able to dedicate a large amount of time to your case. This is because cases that involve federal law are often more complex.
      • The key difference between breaking state and federal laws is that when you break a federal law, you are prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s office. A prosecutor from this office has more time and resources to dedicate to prosecuting the case.

Does everyone go to jail who has committed a crime?

If you have an experienced criminal attorney most defendants should be able to avoid jail, even if guilty except for the most serious offenses. Courts are always willing to listen to attorneys suggestions for alternate sentencing other than jail, including fines, community service, counseling programs, etc. As part of the criminal justice system, courts are used to prevent criminal behavior from happening again, as well as to punish when appropriate.

Not all situations require punishment.The jails are overcrowded so the judges are encouraged by the jail system only to send the most violent criminals and repeat offenders to jail. In addition if you are placed on probation and then violate the conditions of probation, if found guilty of violation of probation there is a greater likelihood that you will be sentenced to some or all of any suspended sentence you had received.

Because jails are overcrowded, pleas bargains are often reached which help defendants avoid jail. Normally long suspended sentences are dolled out with the hope that the defendant will not violate his probation if he has a long suspended sentence hanging over his head.

Other judges are more devious than this. They want to give out a huge long sentence even for first offenders, but the sentencing guidelines do not allow it and the defendant would never enter into a pleas agreement that called for him to serve a long jail sentence.However a defendant who would normally be expecting a shorter jail sentence, will jump at the opportunity for a suspended sentence in a case he thought he was going to jail for , in exchange for a ridiculous long suspended sentence. Predictably, this defendant violates his probation and receives the very long sentence.

Other times, if a judge likes a defendant, but sees he could be at a crossroads in his life, the judge may give this defendant a short jail term to send a message of things to come if the defendant does not change his ways.

Consultation: matas@ataslaw.com
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