Barry Helfand and David Martella are both former prosecutors. They have each prosecuted thousands of cases. Many people mistakenly believe that misdemeanors are not serious. Misdemeanor convictions can, not only result in jail time, but can adversely affect a person for the rest of his or her life.
Long ago, a record of a misdemeanor conviction sat in a file at a courthouse or police station. The internet has changed all that. Detailed information about cases and convictions are instantly available to anyone on the internet. Now, we see that people with misdemeanor convictions often have trouble leasing an apartment from commercial properties. Business licenses are often suspended, revoked, or denied because of convictions discovered on-line. Colleges and employers can find out about cases and use the information weed out certain applicants. Embarrassing information about cases is sometimes distributed on Facebook and Twitter.
And, of course, “911” has changed everything when it comes to security clearances. More government agencies and private businesses are doing background checks and disqualifying people with prior convictions. The Washington D.C. region has many government offices and private companies that provide defense and intelligence services. Many of the people who work for those companies need security clearances. A misdemeanor conviction can, therefore, be a significant obstacle to doing business in the Washington metropolitan area. Aside from creating a lifetime criminal record, misdemeanor convictions can result in jail and lengthy restrictive probationary terms. Here are some the mistakes we often see people make.Mistake: Hiring an Attorney Who Helps the State Prepare Its Case
Misdemeanor case are usually not assigned on a “one-case-to-one-prosecutor” basis. Instead, 20 to 80 cases may be assigned to a “docket” in one courtroom to be resolved in a single day by one prosecutor. So, prosecutors are not able to review every case well in advance of the court dates. They often are not able to fix mistakes or obtain missing pieces of evidence in a case against a particular defendant. Inexperienced defense attorneys often make the mistake of talking to the prosecutor well ahead of the court date to negotiate a resolution of the case. Sometimes those negotiations cause the prosecutor to review the file, obtain new evidence against the defendant, summons missing witnesses, and repair procedural errors that could have produced a favorable outcome for the defendant. Some cases benefit from early negotiations; however, some to not. It is important that your attorney knows the difference.Mistake: Hiring an Attorney Who Has Never Prosecuted or Defended the Particular Offense
It is usually not good enough for an attorney to simply look up the crime that is being charged and read the words of the statute. Just about every criminal statute has been reviewed and interpreted by the appellate courts. Those appellate decisions can greatly impact how a client’s case should be prosecuted or defended. Then there are important aspects of the law that are not written down in any law book: the way particular courts, judges, and prosecutors handle cases. For example, some counties offer jail sentences that don’t require the defendant to ever spend a night in jail. Yet, you will never find information about those sentencing options on-line or in a law book.Mistake: Hiring an Attorney Who Wants to Resolve the Case as Quickly as Possible
We believe it is entirely improper to push a client to resolve a case on a first court date, simply to avoid putting more time into the case. Sometimes delaying a case can work to the advantage of the client. Conversely, there are times when delaying a case may lose favorable opportunities. We don’t make decisions to resolve cases based on the fee involved and the time already spent on a case. Instead, we seek the best outcome for the client, regardless of whether that scenario takes one month, six months, or a year.Mistake: Hiring an Attorney Who Does Not Advise the Client of His or Her Post Trial Options
People come to us all the time, wanting to get sentences reduced, convictions overturned, and records erased. However, there are often important post-trial motions that must be filed within certain time limits to preserve a client’s right to make these requests. Yet, we often hear people tell us, “My attorney never told me about that.” Many times, we are hired to go back and fix the mistakes that are made because advice that was not given when the trial was over.Mistake: Not Hiring an Attorney at All
We are in court all the time and see people attempting to resolve their misdemeanor charges by themselves. For people with little to no income, each county provides a Public Defender service. We charge affordable rates and offer payment plan options. Yet many people still insist on “going it alone.” We see defendants turn down good offers that could result in a dismissal; defendants accept guilty pleas to charges the State cannot prove; and defendants who fail to ask for remedies from a judge that could get a conviction removed from their criminal record.
If you, or someone you care about, has been charged with a misdemeanor, do not wait until just before the court date to seek out experienced legal representation. We offer free office consultations for unrepresented individuals charged with misdemeanors. We also can arrange consultations with defendants who are incarcerated. Call us to arrange an appointment at (301) 251-9001 or use or online consultation request form.