California Criminal Law FAQ
I am Peter M. Liss and I can help you if you have been accused of any crime, ranging from domestic violence to shoplifting and from DUI to assault. I have helped thousands of clients and tried more than 100 jury trials and have more than 30 years of experience. Throughout that time, I have been asked many questions, some on an almost daily basis. These commonly asked questions about criminal law issues can help you better understand how to protect your rights as well as what a defense lawyer can and cannot do to help you.
What’s the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor or felony?
An infraction is something that you will get ticketed for, requiring you to pay a fine. For example, most traffic tickets are infractions. Misdemeanors and felonies are both more serious crimes and can leave you behind bars, but a misdemeanor is a charge that can leave you in jail and can carry a sentence of no more than one year in jail and $1,000. Felonies are the most serious criminal charges and can result in prison time.
Do I really need a criminal lawyer in San Diego? What if I Plan to Plead Guilty?
Yes. Though it makes sense for some people to question whether they even need a lawyer at all, it’s important for them to recognize that criminal lawyer can not only help you fight charges once you have been arrested, but also help you protect your rights while police are investigating the crime. This could help you from accidentally providing incriminating evidence against yourself or from allowing the police to search property that they may not otherwise have a right to look at.
Additionally, a lawyer can also help you better understand the charges you are facing, the strength of the evidence against you, what defenses are available to you and what sentences you’ll be likely to receive if you are found guilty. If the case goes to trial, he can urge the judge to be lenient in sentencing.
If you are considering pleading guilty, your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain by helping you evaluate your options and work with the prosecutor to negotiate the best possible deal available.
Am I better off with a public defender or private lawyer?
First, it’s important to recognize that only those who cannot afford an attorney are provided a public defender. If you aren’t experiencing financial hardships, you will either need to hire an attorney or go without one, which is never a good choice.
If you have the option of a public defender, you should know that while many people mistakenly believe public attorneys aren’t as good as private ones, that’s really a myth. A hardworking lawyer dedicated to your case will help you whether he is part of the public defender’s office or a privately-hired defense lawyer. Unfortunately though, you cannot be assigned a public defender until you have been charged with a crime.
If you are under investigation, a criminal defense attorney can help protect your rights and this can make a major difference in helping you fight the charges if they are filed. A public defender cannot help you with this stage of the process since they cannot be assigned until after the charges are filed.
As a final benefit, it’s worth mentioning that you cannot pick your public defender, but you have your choice when it comes to selecting the right private defense attorney you would like to work with.
Is a Private Defense Attorney Really Worth the Money?
Remember that most criminal charges carry large fines and if your criminal lawyer can help reduce the fines or help you prove your innocence, that alone may be worth the cost of their services. That’s aside from potential prison or jail sentences and the effect that having a criminal conviction on your record may have on the rest of your life.
It’s also worth adding that while he is a top criminal lawyer in San Diego, Peter M. Liss offers both reasonable rates and accepts all major credit cards, so financial concerns should come secondary to protecting your rights and proving your innocence. In other words, whenever you can afford the services of an experienced, skilled attorney, it is absolutely worth it to do so.
The police asked me to come down to the station and explain my side of the story, should I do it?
Only if your lawyer thinks it’s a good idea and will be present with you. Police often rely on a suspect’s lack of knowledge about the law in order to get a confession. This is why you should never speak alone with the police when you are arrested or under investigation and instead insist on seeing your attorney.
Should I just refuse to say anything to the police then?
Yes and no. You should not make any statements to the police without your attorney present to advise you. That being said, the Supreme Court has determined that simply staying silent altogether can be used as a legal indication of guilt. Instead, you must state that you are invoking your right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.
If the police are calling you, state that you are invoking your right to silence, ask for the name and phone number of the police officer you are speaking with and tell him your attorney will call him back. Then hang up and give your lawyer the information.
If the interaction is in person, ask if you are being detained. If not, say that you are invoking your Fifth Amendment right to silence and that you are leaving since you are free to do so. If you are being detained or have already been placed under arrest, simply state that you are invoking your Fifth Amendment right and want to see your attorney. The police cannot continue to ask you questions without your lawyer at this point.
I wasn’t read my Miranda Rights when I spoke to the police. Doesn’t that mean what I said is inadmissible in court?
Miranda warnings only have to be read if a suspect is under arrest and questioned. If the police do not question you after arrest, they do not need to Mirandize you. During the investigation, the police can ask you questions without a Miranda warning as long as you are free to leave.
I am innocent. Should I take a lie detector test to prove my case?
No. In most cases, California law states that evidence from lie detectors can only be admitted to the court as evidence if both parties agree to admit the results. Generally speaking, if it helps your defense, the prosecution will not admit it and if it helps the prosecution, your lawyer will not admit it. So ultimately, there is no legal benefit.
If you’re wondering why police even ask you to take a lie detector then, the answer is simple: this is yet again another way to get you to confess to something. Even if the test results aren’t admissible in court, what you say during the test is.
How can you defend someone you know is guilty?
This seems to be one of the most common criminal questions people ask when they first meet a lawyer in a social setting. Attorneys need to vigorously defend everyone, including the guilty, to ensure the government doesn’t convict people without solid evidence. Otherwise it would result in the innocent being snared in the system. The guilty are also entitled to a fair process which includes a just sentence and a lawyer fighting for their rights. Criminal lawyers are upholding these rights enshrined in our Constitution.
It’s also worth noting that, contrary to popular belief, an attorney cannot ask a client to take the stand if he knows that person plans to lie. So even if an attorney knows the client is guilty, he cannot help that person commit perjury on the stand.
Can you help with my divorce/lawsuit/bankruptcy?
No. Just like a pediatrician wouldn’t be the right person to ask to perform anesthesia, lawyers specialize in certain fields and do not switch from one area to the other. A defense lawyer cannot and should not offer legal advice for any other area of the law.
If you have been accused of any type of crime, I can help you and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have about your charges or the justice process itself not covered in this list of criminal defense FAQ. Please call my offices today to schedule a free initial consultation. I offer top-rated representation for reasonable rates, accept all major credit cards and have offices conveniently located across the street from the Vista courthouse and jail.
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For more resources on the California criminal justice system, please see: