Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Oh So That's How Charges Are Brought Forward



Every day, the media reports on big high profile criminal trials that make for great TV drama. We watch movies and TV shows depicting intense, exaggerated trials but the beginning of a trial is often left off of the script. One may often wonder how charges are actually brought and what happens between the arrest and trial.

Although each State has its own procedures in bringing criminal charges against a criminal defendant, the most common way a criminal trial can start is through a document called the "information." This document is written by the prosecutor and is somewhat similar to a complaint in a civil trial. After probable cause is found in the preliminary hearing, the information is filed. In it, the prosecutor describes what happened in a series of statements, and then shows how the defendant's actions are crimes. The substance of the information can come from police reports and other documents produced through police investigation, but it can also come from complaints brought by citizens. In most states, a case may proceed to trial after felony or misdemeanor charges are brought by information. In the the federal system, a prosecutor can bring misdemeanor or felony charges by information (if a grand jury is waived).

Another way a criminal trial can start is by indictment through a grand jury. A prosecutor will review evidence gathered by the police and give that evidence to a jury. The jury will then decide if the defendants should go to trial. A prosecutor might choose this method if she is not sure she will succeed in a criminal trial, and considers the grand jury proceedings as a test trial. In the State of Washington, a grand jury system does not exist, except for in a Federal case. 

The third way to bring criminal charges is the most straight forward. A police officer may see someone committing a minor crime, such as speeding, jaywalking, or littering, and write up a ticket, also known as a citation. Citations can only be used to charge someone with an infraction, which are minor cases compared to a criminal charge and are generally not punishable by prison. The person who receives the ticket has the opportunity to contest it, or can just pay a fine to end the proceedings.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

From Subway Hero to Zero; Subway Pitchman Being Sentenced



Today, Jared Fogle, the pitchman for Subway is scheduled to plead guilty to a number of sex offenses, from possession of child pornography to having sex with minors. The standard prison sentence which he is scheduled to face pursuant to his plea deal is between five to 13 years, where the prosecutor will be asking the Court to impose the high end of 13 years and the defense can argue for no less than five years in prison. Along with a mandatory prison sentence, other conditions would be imposed by the Court, such as a sexual deviancy evaluation and follow up treatment, no contact with minors and having to register as a sex offender for an indefinite period of time. 

The news of his plea agreement may come as a surprise for many since he had not even been officially charged with a crime. He had been under investigation for several weeks after his home had been raided by local authorities. Presumably, after reviewing the evidence against him, Mr. Fogle’s attorney(s) began negotiating with the State Prosecutors in order to mitigate the consequences of his actions and come to an amicable plea bargain.  

As many as 90% of all criminal cases are settled by way of a plea bargain. One may ask, why are plea bargains so popular with both prosecutors and defense attorneys? For prosecutors, it means not having to prosecute the case which saves time and resources. For defense attorneys, it means potentially saving their client from more serious charges and jail time, which was likely the case in Mr. Fogle’s case. Finally, for defendants, it often means receiving a reduced sentence and resolving the matter quickly. Mr. Fogle most likely realized he would be facing many more years in prison, with additional charges that could have been added on. In order to avoid the stress of trial, and the possibility of facing even more years, he has made the decision to accept responsibility, serve his time and move on with his life. 

From the defense standpoint, there are many other benefits of plea bargaining. One of the primary reasons that defendants agree to plea bargains is simple anxiety. If a case goes to trial, they might get off, BUT they also might get the maximum sentence. Most people can't stand living in a state of constant anxiety and prefer certainty, so they sign plea agreements.

Furthermore, a big reason for agreeing to a plea bargain is to avoid jail time. Not having to go to jail and live with the stigma associated with it, and not being separated from family and friends is a huge incentive to sign a plea agreement. In Mr. Fogle’s case, he will still be serving many years in prison, but compared to the additional number of years he could have been looking at based on his conduct, five to 13 years in prison with the possibility of early release, appears to be a reasonable outcome.
The most common form of plea bargain, a reduction in the severity of the charge, is a great benefit to a defendant. A lesser charge looks better on a permanent record, won't have as serious an impact on future convictions (especially in "three strikes" states) and may not exclude the defendant from a variety of things that those convicted of more serious charges are prohibited from doing.

Moreover, as is the circumstance in Mr. Fogle’s case, sometimes the prosecutor does not lower the charge, but rather lessens the sentence sought to something below the maximum allowed sentence for a crime. While not nearly as advantageous as a reduction in the charge, the difference in sentencing can be a matter of years and crucially important to a defendant.

One of the the most practical reason plea bargains are sought is simply to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and move on. It may not be the most "just" outcome, but many defendants simply want to move on with their life. Mr Fogle’s attorney(s) were able to resolve his case even before charges were even filed. With this plea agreement, the State Prosecutors will be filing the exact charges on the very same day. Mr. Fogle will be pleading guilty. Although this is uncommon in most criminal proceedings there are several reasons why he made this decision to expedite his case. The most likely reason for him is to avoid the continuous publicity by the media. One of the biggest tools prosecutors or defendants can use is the media. As a result, many defendants simply want to keep the matter quiet, without dragging the case out in front of the public. Jared Fogle’s case has already achieved a tremendous amount of media scrutiny, but after his plea and sentencing, the publicity would be expected to die down after he begins serving his prison commitment.

Not everyone agrees that plea bargains are really a good deal for defendants, especially where many of the considerations seem to favor time, expense and convenience over justice. Finally, many defendants agree to plea bargains simply out of fear or ignorance in which case no one is well served - the system or the defendant.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sentencing Explained

After a defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, a judge will decide on the appropriate punishment during the sentencing phase of a criminal case. This is otherwise known as the sentence. Sentencing for criminal offenses can range from probation and community service to prison and even the death penalty. 

Sentencing usually takes place almost immediately after convictions for minor infractions and misdemeanors, or when a defendant has pled guilty. In more complex criminal cases, such as those involving serious felonies, the sentencing judge usually receives input from the prosecutor, the defense, and the probation department, who prepare recommendations in a "pre-sentence report.

In most cases, the judge will consider several factors in determining a criminal sentence, which include whether the offender has any prior criminal history; whether the offender was the main offender or an accessory (someone who assists the main offender) or; whether the offender was under great personal stress or duress when he or she committed the crime; whether anyone was injured or the crime was particularly likely to result in injury; whether the offender was particularly cruel to a victim, or particularly destructive, or vindictive; and whether the offender displayed remorse or regret.

Judges in most cases have a great deal of discretion when determining a sentence and have several sentencing alternatives from which to choose, from diversion to incarceration. Not every conviction means a trip to prison and alternative sentences can include: Suspended sentences; Fines or restitution; Community service; Deferred adjudication or pretrial diversion which would result in a dismissal of the charges; and/or Probation.

Additionally, there are many different types of sentences. Multiple sentences can be served concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after another), and single sentences could be deferred or suspended based on certain conditions.

After a defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, a judge will decide on the appropriate punishment (or sentence) during the sentencing phase of a criminal case. Sentencing for criminal offenses can range from probation and community service to prison and even the death penalty. The following resources cover the various factors that influence sentencing, "three strikes" sentencing laws, mandatory minimum sentences, state-specific guidelines and more.
Sentencing Basics
Sentencing usually takes place almost immediately after convictions for minor infractions and misdemeanors, or when a defendant has pled guilty. In more complex criminal cases, such as those involving serious felonies, the sentencing judge usually receives input from the prosecutor, the defense, and the probation department (which prepares recommendations in a "pre-sentence report").
A judge will consider several factors in determining a criminal sentence, including:
  • Whether the offender has any criminal history;
  • Whether the offender was the main offender or an accessory (someone who assists the main offender) or;
  • Whether the offender was under great personal stress or duress when he or she committed the crime;
  • Whether anyone was injured or the crime was particularly likely to result in injury;
  • Whether the offender was particularly cruel to a victim, or particularly destructive, vindictive, etc.; and
  • Whether the offender displayed remorse or regret.
Choice of Sentences
Judges in most cases have a great deal of discretion when determining a sentence and have several sentencing alternatives from which to choose, from diversion to incarceration. Not every conviction means a trip to prison and alternative sentences can include:
Additionally, there are many different types of sentences. Multiple sentences can be served concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after another), and single sentences could be deferred or suspended based on certain conditions.
Sentencing In-Depth
While judges do have many sentencing options, in some cases there are federal and state laws that provide for mandatory sentences. These laws require judges to impose identical sentences on all persons convicted of the same offense. Mandatory sentences reflect the efforts of state legislatures and Congress to address public concerns regarding judges’ leniency or inconsistency in criminal sentencing.
The most notable mandatory sentencing laws are the “Three Strikes” statutes, which provide for life in prison if a convicted felon has been convicted of a “serious violent felony” and has two or more previous convictions, one of which is another serious violent felony. While these laws have been criticized for being disproportionately harsh, most have been upheld as constitutional.
Each state has their own state sentencing guidelines, which cover mandatory minimum sentences and the use of parole and probation issues.
- See more at: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/criminal-sentencing.html#sthash.WXNzyIQg.dpuf

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I Want To Speak to My Lawyer: Right To Counsel Explained



Recently, the Washington State Supreme Court, in State v. Fedorov, affirmed a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol where a police officer remained in a room while a defendant was a on a telephone call with a lawyer before consenting to a breath test. The Court held that the rule-based right to counsel under CrR 3.1 does not require absolute privacy for conversations with an attorney, and instead only requires an opportunity to contact an attorney.  

So what is this right to counsel rule that a criminal defendant has and where does it come from?
A criminal defendant's right to an attorney is found in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires the "assistance of counsel" for the accused in all criminal prosecutions. This means that a defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by, or have access to an attorney during all criminal proceedings, from the time an individual is arrested, through a jury trial. In certain scenarios, this right can go beyond a jury trial and attach through the first appeal upon a conviction. It also means that if the defendant cannot afford an attorney, in almost all instances the government will appoint one to handle the case, at no cost to the defendant.

The defense attorney's role is of the most importance in almost every criminal case. The specific duties of an attorney vary depending on the nature of the charges and the case, but there are several key responsibilities of all defense attorneys regardless of the charge. Firstly, a defense attorney is responsible for advising the defendant of their rights and explaining the several different stages of a criminal proceeding. Secondly, the attorney must ensure the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated during their contact with law enforcement and during all court proceedings. Furthermore, the defense attorney has a duty to effectively investigate the facts and analyze all of the evidence presented by the government. From the arraignment to the sentencing, the defense attorney is responsible for cross examining the government witnesses, objecting to improper questions and evidence and present any legal defenses that may exist. Lastly, the defense attorney is responsible to negotiate a plea bargain with the government or city prosecutor on the defendant’s behalf. Once a plea offer is made, it is the attorney’s responsibility to relay such a deal to the defendant, and then advise whether it is best to accept the deal, or proceed to trial. Ultimately, whether a case proceeds to trial is solely the defendant’s decision to make, and his or her constitution right. 

Courts have interpreted the Sixth Amendment right to counsel as guaranteeing the "effective assistance of counsel” to criminal defendants. It doesn't matter whether the attorney is hired by the defendant or appointed by the government. However, questionable strategic choices made by an attorney do not usually cause a conviction to be thrown out, unless it is clear that the attorney's incompetence affected the outcome of the case.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Plea Bargain 101



The majority of criminal cases are resolved through a "plea bargain", usually well before the case ever reaches trial. Many have heard this term, but only a few have a good understanding of what a plea bargain actually is. So what is it?

In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge than one for which the defendant could stand trial, in exchange for a more lenient sentence. A lenient sentence may include the government agreeing to suspend all of the jail time on a particular charge, in exchange for a defendant agreeing to engage in some sort of treatment (i.e. alcohol/drug treatment, mental health treatment etc.), community service or other court ordered conditions. Many times a plea bargain includes an agreement in which the government agrees to dismiss certain related charges. For both the defendant and the government, the decision to enter into a plea bargain is based on the seriousness of the alleged crime, the evidence in the case, and the likeliness of a guilty verdict at trial. Plea bargains are generally encouraged by the courts and are necessary due to the sheer number of criminal cases that are filed each year.  

A plea bargain in itself is essentially an agreement in a criminal case between the defendant and the prosecutor, which usually involves the defendant pleading guilty to a crime in order to receive a lesser sentence. In most cases, judges are respectful and appreciative of the fact that the parties involved have worked out a resolution without having to go through a costly trial. Therefore, a judge will typically follow the recommendation made by the parties at the time of sentencing, unless a plea involves a non-agreed sentencing recommendation.  

The question of whether a plea bargain actually benefits society is often asked, but there are many justifications for the reason why the majority of the criminal cases are resolved by way of a plea. These justifications include the fact that the courts are crowded and if plea bargains were not allowed, it could overwhelm the entire court system. Additionally, prosecutors' caseloads are also overloaded and less trials means that the prosecutor can effectively prosecute the most serious cases that come through the system. Last, defendants save time and money by not having to defend themselves at trial and most times gain certain benefits by accepting a plea offer.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.