Criminal Defense

Frequently Asked Questions

Criminal Defense

Our office has defended clients charged with crimes ranging from class B felonies to traffic tickets.  Our attorneys have had multiple jury trials that have resulted in acquittals for clients charged with sex abuse, burglary, assault, domestic abuse and operating while intoxicated offenses.  If a case does not proceed to a trial our attorneys are successful at either obtaining a dismissal of the charge or negotiating a favorable plea agreement.


Overview


The Criminal Defense Process


Misdemeanors


Felonies


False Accusations


Is it possible to be prosecuted for an attempt to commit a crime?


Who is a prosecutor?


How does a prosecutor decide whether to charge an individual with a crime?


How is probation different from parole?


What is restitution?


What is a white collar crime?


Is it possible to prosecute a child who commits a crime in the same way an adult would be prosecuted?


If I’m innocent, should I still get a lawyer?


Do I need a lawyer if I intend to plead guilty?

Overview

Criminal law covers “public wrongs”, or offenses against the public and order. The federal, state, and local governments all define these laws and prosecute people who commit these crimes. Public wrongs range from traffic violations to the most serious offenses such as rape or murder. Those charged with a crime all called “defendants”. They are represented by defense attorneys, while the government that charges the defendant is represented by an attorney called a “prosecutor”. If you are charged with a crime, you will need representation by an attorney with experience in criminal defense in  order to protect your legal rights.

The Constitution of the United States requires the government to follow the due process of law before depriving a person of their life, liberty, or property. Criminal statutes must therefore clearly define all crimes and criminal conduct, and cannot be vague or prevent understanding of conduct prohibited by law. Criminal statutes must define a guilty state of mind (called mens rea) as well as an illegal action (called actus reus). For example, it is not a crime to bump someone on a crowded train, because there was no criminal intent. It is also not a crime to think about harming someone without acting. This requirement also applies to attempted crimes. Conviction requires the defendant to take  action to attempt a crime. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain these terms and concepts, and help you to understand the specifics of your situation.

The Criminal Defense Process

In order to assure that criminal trials are fair, both prosecutors and defense attorneys are held to a complicated set of rules and regulations. The complexity of these cases require that a defense attorney should have expertise and experience in criminal law. A defense attorney should be involved in a case as soon as possible- ideally, even before police have interrogated a person. When an individual is arrested, the law enforcement officers that arrest them are required to inform the arrested person of their right to an attorney and to have an attorney appointed if they cannot afford legal representation. These warnings are called “Miranda warnings”, after the 1960s Supreme Court case that first required them.

 

Often, cases involving child defendants are handled by the juvenile justice system. This system is less formal, and focuses on rehabilitation over punishment. Many criminal defense lawyers work in both justice systems, while others focus on one type or the other.

 

 

 

It is sometimes possible for a defendant or defense attorney to negotiate with the government. The prosecutor may agree to drop charges if the defendants pleads guilty to a lesser charge. In all cases, the decision to plead innocent or guilty rests with the defendant.

 

If a defendant is found guilty, he or she may be sentenced to a period of probation, a fine, community service, restitution or other payment, or prison time… An experienced lawyer can work to find the best possible deal for their client. If this is not possible, the lawyer will fight in court for their client to convince the jury that there is reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant is guilty.

 

The possible consequences of a criminal conviction are extremely serious, and if accused of a crime, you can find yourself in confusing and frightening circumstances. To protect your legal rights and your future opportunities, you should immediately seek the assistance of an attorney with experience in criminal defense. Even if the charge seems minor or you are convinced your innocence means you have nothing to hide, the seriousness of the situation demands that you contact an attorney.

Misdemeanors

A misdemeanor is a less serious crime, such as minor theft or public intoxication. The punishment for a misdemeanor is generally a fine or a short period of incarceration in a local jail.  In Iowa, simple misdemeanors are not indictable offenses, meaning that the State is bound by traditional rules of speedy indictment and the case is handled by a magistrate as opposed to a district court judge.  However, serious and aggravated misdemeanors are indictable offenses, that are charged through a trial information and are handled in district court…. While a misdemeanor charge is less serious, a conviction can still cause large difficulties for an individual who becomes a defendant. Persons charged with a misdemeanor should still get the counsel and assistance of a criminal defense attorney.

The penalties for a misdemeanor conviction are often less severe than felony penalties. This means more than simply smaller fines or less jail time. Persons convicted of a misdemeanor can usually still vote, serve on juries, and practice their job. A felony conviction makes all of these much less likely. In some instances, a defense attorney can negotiate to have a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor in order to reduce the punishment and future consequences of conviction.

The possibly serious consequences of a misdemeanor conviction mean that you should consult immediately with an experienced criminal defense attorney, should you be charged with a misdemeanor.

A traffic violation can become a misdemeanor or even a felony if it leads to injury or property damage.

 

Felonies

Serious crimes are called “felonies”. These crimes can be violent or non-violent, including the theft or embezzlement of large amounts, assault, murder, rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking, racketeering, and fraud. Generally, a felony is any crime with a punishment greater than one year in prison. Therefore, the punishment defines the seriousness of the offense, not the criminal statute.

Felony trials are handled differently from misdemeanor trials. Defendant’s charged with felonies are entitled to be represented by counsel for critical stages of their case. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney the court will appoint an attorney to represent a defendant charged with a felony. The defendant is generally required to be present for the entirety of a felony trial. In Iowa, defendants are not charged through indictment, but rather through what is known as a “trial information.”  The trial information contains the formal charges the defendant is facing.  While a prosecutor has the power to pool a grand jury to determine whether or not charges will be filed, it is not required..

 

A felony charge can also affect other charges. In some jurisdictions, an accidental death can be ruled manslaughter or murder if it occurs during the commission of a felony. Conspiracies to commit felonies are generally treated more harshly than other conspiracies.

If a defendant is found guilty, a felony conviction can have serious repercussions for life. Felons not only receive longer sentences, but must sufferlong last repercussions in their civil life.. Convicted felons are often stripped of their right to serve on juries. They may lose their right to vote. Felons are often barred from some professions, such as law, teaching or the military. Many states bar convicted felons from possessing firearms.

The seriousness of these crimes and of their punishment makes it vital to have an experienced criminal defense attorney.

False Accusations

More often than you might think, the wrong person goes to jail for a crime. Although such cases are relatively rare, they do occur- and an innocent person suffers while a guilty person goes free. If you are falsely accused of a crime, the best way to protect your rights and ensure that your innocence is established is to seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney. A skilled attorney can deal with the complications of the legal system in order to protect your rights and work for a fair outcome.

 

Your case will not be treated differently if you are falsely accused. Do not assume that because you are innocent, you will not need the help of an attorney. You may actually need an attorney more, in this case. In some cases, a falsely accused person will plead guilty to a lesser offense. Often, this allows people to avoid risking conviction and a jail

 

sentence by going to trial. Obviously, many innocent people refuse to handle their cases in this fashion. An experienced lawyer can help to explain your case and tell you the benefits and disadvantages of taking actions like these.

 

If you are successful in proving your innocence, you may be able to file a lawsuit and recover damages from the individual who brought charges. You can sue a private citizen for making a false criminal charge or complaint. You can also sue a government law enforcement officer, in this case for false imprisonment or a civil rights violation. These lawsuits are called Section 1983 actions.

 

You can recover actual injuries, such as lost wages, attorney fees, damage to reputation, and other real costs incurred as a result of the accusation. It is also sometimes possible to recover punitive damages, which punishes the person for making a false accusation and discourages others from doing likewise. In order to win a case and prove a false accusation has been made, the plaintiff must show that the charge was dismissed, that the defendant was responsible for causing the charges to be made, and that the charges cannot be reasonably explained. It is not enough to merely prove that charges were dropped.

 

Again, the best way to protect your rights and understand your situation is to seek the help of a defense attorney. The most important consideration is finding an attorney with expertise and experience in criminal defense. Your reputation, your future, and possibly your life hang in the balance; you should get the best legal assistance you possibly can.

Is it possible to be prosecuted for an attempt to commit a crime?

There are statutes in many jurisdictions which make the attempt of crimes like robbery or murder a crime. These statutes are intended to punish individuals who have demonstrated the intent to commit a crime, regardless of whether that crime occurred. Conviction for an attempted crime requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged had the intent to commit the crime or create a situation that would amount to that crime, and that the person took steps beyond merely preparing to commit the crime.

Who is a prosecutor?

A prosecutor is an attorney employed by the government. Prosecutors are responsible for presenting the government’s case against a defendant, or person charged with a crime. The government must investigate, arrest, and charge a defendant, and then bring the defendant to trial. Depending on the government body for which they work, a prosecutor may be called a city attorney, a county attorney, a state’s attorney, or a district attorney.

How does a prosecutor decide whether to charge an individual with a crime?

There are three main considerations. The first is that the case against an individual is sound. The law must be clearly defined, and there must be no defects such as a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights or the destruction of evidence. The second is that there must be enough evidence against the defendant to make a conviction probable. The third consideration is whether the case matches the objectives of the prosecutor’s office. In some cases, a more informal resolution may be appropriate.

How is probation different from parole?

Parole and probation are both terms used for punitive measures after the conclusion of a trial. Parole is the release of an individual from prison, on the condition that the  individual is supervised by a court officer. Probation is a criminal sentence not connected to imprisonment. Probation is often the sentence for a first offense or a less serious offense. An individual on probation must generally meet certain terms and conditions to stay within the community.

What is restitution?

Restitution requires a defendant to pay monetary damages to the victim or the victim’s next of kin. This money is intended as compensation for medical bills, property damage, and other costs the victim incurs as the result of a crime. The federal Mandatory Victims’ Restitution Act of 1996 requires restitution for violent crimes and some non-violent crimes. Many other state and federal laws also require restitution.

What is a white collar crime?

These generally include fraud or deception to gain property, money, or a business advantage. While these crimes are non-violent, they can have a tremendous impact. For example, Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme cost his investors billions of dollars as he defrauded them out of their hard earned money.

Is it possible to prosecute a child who commits a crime in the same way an adult would be prosecuted?

In most cases, children who commit crimes are subject to the juvenile court system, a separate judicial system which emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment. However, children who commit serious crimes can be charged as adults. They will then be tried and punished through the regular judicial system.

If I’m innocent, should I still get a lawyer?

Even if you’re innocent, it’s possible that you could be convicted of a crime. Every defendant needs representation to ensure that they protect their legal rights.

Do I need a lawyer if I intend to plead guilty?

A lawyer can help you to reduce your sentence and increase the opportunities available to you. Whether or not you are guilty, you have inalienable constitutional rights, and your defense attorney can help to protect and preserve them.

 

If you would like to schedule an initial consultation with an attorney, contact Putnam, Fern & Thompson Law Office at  (563) 382-2984 or complete our inquiry form on the Contact Us page.