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Criminal Defense Frequently Asked Questions

Serving Baltimore City, and 24 Counties in Maryland

Free Initial Consultation and NO Fees or Costs Unless We Win

There are few times more important to hire a competent Baltimore Criminal attorney than when you are charged with a crime. Experienced in felony and misdemeanor criminal defense, Baltimore criminal attorney Marc Atas represents clients with remarkable skill and dedication. Baltimore Attorney Marc Atas is a highly-skilled attorney based in Baltimore, Maryland who represents individuals throughout Maryland who have been involved in a Criminal Litigation or Criminal Defense case.

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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