Frequently Asked Questions about Criminal Defense
Q: Do I need a lawyer’s help if I am accused of a crime?
A: It is in your best interest to consult a criminal defense lawyer as early as possible if you suspect you will be facing the criminal justice system. An attorney will fight for your legal and constitutional rights, and monitor the proceedings for legality and fairness. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for free legal counsel.
Q: What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
A: Exact definitions vary by jurisdiction, but the traditional definition of a felony is a crime that is punishable by a year or more in prison. A misdemeanor is a crime that is generally punishable by imprisonment of less than one year. Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors.
Q: What should I do if I am arrested?
A: If the police arrest you, immediately ask to speak with an attorney. Do not speak to the police without your criminal defense attorney present; doing so could result in you incriminating yourself.
Q: What is the role of the grand jury?
A: The grand jury decides whether there is sufficient evidence to indict a suspect and continue the criminal proceedings against him or her. The grand jury reviews the evidence and may hear testimony to decide whether to indict someone. Unlike a standard jury, though, the grand jury makes no decision about guilt or innocence. All states use the grand jury system to some extent, though there are differences in terms of when a grand jury indictment is necessary and the numbers of jurors that serves on one.
Q: What is the role of the prosecutor?
A: The prosecutor is the attorney who represents the federal, state, local, or tribal government in a case against a criminal defendant. The title of the prosecutor varies by jurisdiction, but some common titles include district attorney, county attorney, solicitor, city attorney, United States attorney and state’s attorney. The prosecutor is tasked with seeking punishment for those committing crimes, balanced with the duty to fairly try such individuals.
Q: What is the difference between probation and parole?
A: Probation is a type of criminal sentence that allows a person to stay in the community rather than serve time in prison as long as he or she complies with certain conditions (like regularly reporting to a probation officer, refraining from alcohol and drugs, holding down a job, not associating with certain people and not committing further crimes). Parole is the supervised release of a prisoner from incarceration into the community before the end of his or her sentence or after a period of imprisonment has been completed. Conditions of parole are often similar to those of probation.
Q: What is restitution in the criminal law context?
A: Depending on the applicable federal or state laws, part of a criminal sentence may include the payment of restitution to the victim or victims for their losses associated with the crime. Restitution may include compensation for: property damage or loss, medical and rehabilitation expenses, lost income, or funeral expenses. Part of the philosophy behind criminal restitution is to give the criminal offender a direct part in making things whole for his or her victim.
Q: What is white-collar crime?
A: White-collar crime refers generally to non-violent financial crimes involving fraud or other dishonesty committed in business or commercial contexts. Examples include insider trading, embezzlement, wire or securities fraud, and tax evasion.
Q: How are children and youth prosecuted?
A: A minor is typically prosecuted for criminal conduct in a separate juvenile court system. The philosophy of the juvenile justice system is that children should not be punished or stigmatized for criminal conduct because of their immature abilities to make proper choices and to recognize right from wrong. Instead the role of the juvenile justice system is seen as rehabilitative rather than punitive. Particularly violent crimes may, depending on the age of the offender, be tried in adult criminal court, however.
Q: If I am convicted of a crime while I am in the United States legally, can I be deported?
A: It depends. If a person who is not an American citizen is convicted of certain crimes, he or she can be removed (formerly known as being “deported”). This includes those in the U.S. on work or student visas as well as lawful permanent residents living and working in the United States. Pursuant to U.S. immigration law, if a noncitizen is convicted of an aggravated felony, a crime of moral turpitude or any one of a number of other specifically enumerated crimes (such as violations of laws relating to domestic violence, controlled substances, immigration fraud and firearms), he or she is at risk of removal. In addition to possible removal, a conviction may adversely affect a lawful permanent resident’s ability to one day become a citizen.
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.