What happens if I break the law?
If you break the law, you may get arrested. Getting arrested can be overwhelming and very frightening, but even more so if you have special needs, do not understand what you are being charged with, do not have money to hire an attorney and have no idea what to do in court. But laws make sure that anyone facing criminal charges gets competent attorneys to help them through the process.
First, if you are arrested, you have a right to remain silent. You do not have to speak to police- this is your Miranda right to remain silent. It is generally a good idea to wait to talk to a lawyer before you speak to police.
If you are arrested, you may be placed in jail. The court may set “bail” which is an amount of money that you must provide to guarantee to the court that you will come back for your court appearance.
If you pay bail, you will be released from jail, and given a date to appear in court.
When you appear in court for the first time, that is your arraignment. At the arraignment you will be told what crime(s) you are being charged with.
You will be asked if you have a lawyer. If you can afford to hire a lawyer, ask the judge for time to get a lawyer and a new court date. Then get recommendations to find a good lawyer who knows about criminal law.
IF YOU CAN NOT AFFORD A LAWYER, the court (the Judge) is required to appoint an attorney to represent you at no charge, if you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony. (If you are charged with an infraction, the least serious type of crime, which does not have jail as a penalty for conviction, you are not entitled to an appointed lawyer.)
If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, it makes a great deal of sense to let the court appoint a lawyer to represent you. Answer the judge’s questions about your finances, but don’t say anything about the crime itself. It Is extremely important to say nothing in court about the crime itself. Instead, save the discussion for your attorney.
At the arraignment, the judge will provide you or your lawyer with “discovery“ which is all of the information about the evidence that they have gathered against you. It is customary to enter a “not guilty“ plea in court at this time, while you decide what to do. Generally, it is a good idea to enter a “not guilty” plea at the arraignment, unless the judge is willing to give you a new court date for you to appear with a lawyer.
In private, discuss the evidence against you with your lawyer to help you decide how to respond to the charges. Your lawyer will have a lot of experience and be in a good position to guide you through the evidence and through the court process.
Remember if you are charged with a crime that it is the prosecutor’s burden to prove to a jury that you are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty.” Your lawyer can discuss with you the strength of the prosecutor’s case against you; this information will help you decide your best course of action.
At a hearing called a “Pre-trial hearing” your lawyer can discuss your case with the prosecutor and judge, explain your options, negotiate a plea for you.
If you can’t reach a plea agreement, you would have a trial. There, your lawyer can present your case to a judge or jury, and argue for you. If you are convicted, they must go over the pre-sentence report with you and bring facts that help you before the court.
Remember that your court-appointed lawyer is paid by the government but has the ethical responsibility to represent YOU to the best of his or her ability.
Having special needs most likely doesn’t change anything as far as your legal responsibility. You are held responsible for any crime you committed, even if you have a guardian.
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