Why Hire a Criminal Lawyer for Felony Charges?
If you’ve been arrested on felony charges in Alameda County, you may be asking, “Why hire a criminal lawyer for felony charges?” The bottom-line answer is that you should hire an Alameda County criminal lawyer because a felony conviction can completely derail your life and rob you of your future. Your Oakland criminal lawyer can influence whether or not you are convicted. If you are convicted, they can influence the punishment you receive.
Crimes in California
Before delving into the importance of why you should hire an Alameda County criminal lawyer for felony charges, you should understand that there are three types of crimes in California. The least serious is an infraction, which carries no jail time and which may entail paying a fine. Many traffic violations – like not stopping at a red light before making a right turn – are infractions. Other examples of infractions include:
- Carrying an open container of alcohol
- Smoking marijuana in a public place
- Petty theft
- Driving with an expired vehicle registration
Misdemeanors are a step up from infractions. Run-of-the-mill misdemeanor convictions carry a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to $1,000. Some types of misdemeanor crimes, however, carry a sentence of up to one year in jail and fines of more than $1,000. Examples of misdemeanor charges in California are:
- Public nuisance
- Brandishing a firearm
- Criminal threats
Felonies are the most serious of California crimes. A typical felony conviction carries a sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. But some felony convictions can lead to a life sentence – or even the death penalty. Examples of felony charges in California are:
It’s important to note that some crimes in California are considered “wobblers,” which means that they can be charged as a less serious version of a crime or a more serious version of a crime. One class of wobbler crimes can be charged as either infractions or misdemeanors. Another class of wobbler crimes can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. Examples of wobbler crimes that can be charged as either infractions or misdemeanors are:
- Possessing a fake driver’s license if you’re under 21
- Possessing alcohol if you’re under 21
- Driving without a valid driver license
- Failure to appear in court
Examples of wobbler crimes that can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies are:
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Assault against a police officer
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Domestic violence
Hiring an Alameda County Criminal Lawyer
When you ask, “Why hire a criminal lawyer for felony charges?”, the answer seems obvious. You want the best possible chance of retaining your freedom, your assets, and life as you know it.
Let’s say that Dwayne is arrested on robbery charges. Without an Oakland criminal lawyer, Dwayne is at the mercy of police during his interrogation and at the mercy of the prosecutor during his preliminary hearing. He doesn’t know how to navigate the nuances of gaining access to the evidence against him, finding and deposing witnesses, and arguing the finer points of the law with the prosecutor or in front of a judge and jury. Once he’s convicted – as is likely the case if he’s representing himself – Dwayne doesn’t have the know-how to negotiate his sentence.
With an Alameda County criminal lawyer, however, Dwayne is in a much better position to obtain a favorable outcome in his case. Here’s an example of the ways that Dwayne can benefit from the services of an Alameda County criminal lawyer:
Understanding the Allegations: Dwayne’s lawyer knows that there are two types of felony robbery: in the first degree and in the second degree. First-degree robbery can be charged when the person robbed is in their home or motorhome, or when the person robbed has just used an ATM machine. In addition, first-degree robbery charges can be filed when the person robbed is a bus, taxi, Lyft, or train driver. Any other kind of robbery generates second-degree robbery charges.
Understanding the Consequences: Dwayne’s Oakland criminal lawyer knows that a first-degree robbery conviction carries a state prison term of three, four or six years – unless Dwayne had one or more partners who participated. In that case, first-degree robbery can result in a prison sentence of three, six, or nine years. Dwayne’s attorney knows that a second-degree robbery conviction carries a prison sentence of two, three, or five years.
Understanding the Defenses: Dwayne’s Alameda County criminal lawyer understands the possible defenses to the robbery charges filed against Dwayne. For example, his lawyer knows that the very definition of robbery in California is that the taking of property is accomplished by “force or fear.” The law defines fear as the fear of injury to the person or property of the person robbed, to their family member, or to someone they’re with. Dwayne’s Oakland criminal lawyer might argue that Dwayne didn’t use force or fear. They may assert that Dwayne believed the property was his, and so wasn’t actually committing robbery. They can say that the person robbed is mixed up, and that Dwayne wasn’t the person who robbed them. Or, Dwayne’s attorney can argue that the person accusing Dwayne has a grudge against him, and is falsely accusing Dwayne of the crime.
But understanding the allegations, consequences, and defenses Dwayne faces is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the advantages of having an Alameda County criminal lawyer for felony charges.
Navigating Through the Criminal Justice System
When Dwayne hires an Oakland criminal lawyer, he has an advocate by his side. And the sooner Dwayne hires an attorney, the better. His attorney can help him in numerous ways, including:
Interrogation: Once Dwayne is arrested, the next step is interrogation. Without an attorney by his side, Dwayne may get caught up in trick questions and can say things that incriminate him. His Alameda County criminal lawyer can help Dwayne avoid those minefields by advising him what he should and shouldn’t say.
Prior to Dwayne’s arraignment, his attorney has access to Dwayne’s arrest report and any investigative reports generated by law enforcement. This gives the lawyer valuable information about the strength of the prosecution’s case. His attorney may be able to negotiate behind the scenes to have the charges reduced or even dropped prior to the preliminary hearing.
Arraignment: Dwayne’s Oakland criminal lawyer is by his side during Dwayne’s arraignment. That’s when the judge advises Dwayne of his rights and asks him how he pleads to the robbery charges. In all likelihood, Dwayne’s attorney advises him to plead “not guilty,” because that plea give the attorney the greatest number of options. For example, that plea gives the attorney room to prepare a defense to prove Dwayne’s innocence or to gain time in order to negotiate a plea agreement on his behalf. The arraignment may also give Dwayne’s criminal lawyer the chance to raise issues pertaining to police procedure. If, for example, the lawyer believes that law enforcement didn’t have probable cause to arrest Dwayne, they can ask the judge for a probable cause hearing. The chances that Dwayne is able to navigate his arraignment without the help of an attorney are slim.
Behind the Scenes: Dwayne’s attorney moves down two tracks simultaneously. On one track, the attorney is gathering information from witnesses, records, and documents. The lawyer understand that specific circumstances can lead to penalty enhancements for robbery convictions. For example, if the person robbed suffered serious injuries, then three to six years can be added onto a sentence. If a gun was used in the robbery, that can mean an additional ten years. If Dwayne is convicted of firing the gun, that can mean an additional 20 years. If the gun was fired and caused serious bodily injury, the sentence for a conviction can be 25 years to life in prison.
Negotiation with the District Attorney: If Dwayne’s attorney isn’t able to have the charges reduced or dropped prior to Dwayne’s arraignment, they attempt another round of negotiations prior to the start of the trial. The reality is that the vast majority of felony charges are resolved through plea agreements. The district attorney’s office does not have the resources to try every case, and so are often eager to try and reach a plea agreement. This means that Dwayne pleads guilty, either to a lesser charge or with fewer consequences.
Dwayne’s Oakland criminal lawyer may, for example, convince the prosecutor to accept Dwayne’s guilty plea to grand theft or petty theft in exchange for dropping the robbery charge. What difference does that make? It can mean much less – or even no – time in prison.
It’s time to circle back to the concept of wobblers – crimes that can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. Grand theft is a wobbler. If Dwayne’s Alameda County criminal lawyer negotiates a lesser plea of grand theft, that opens the door to two options. A felony grand theft conviction can lead to 16 months, two years, or three years in prison. That’s a vast improvement over even a second-degree robbery conviction that carries a prison sentence of two, three, or five years. A misdemeanor grand theft conviction can lead to up to one year in jail. If the district attorney has a solid case against Dwayne, it may make sense for him to plead guilty to the lesser offense of grand theft.
Sentencing: Whether Dwayne decides to accept a plea bargain or goes to trial and is convicted, his Oakland criminal lawyer can help mitigate the consequences of a conviction. For example, Dwayne’s attorney can make an argument for probation instead of a prison sentence. Even formal probation is a better option than going to jail or prison. If Dwayne is convicted and potentially subjected to penalty enhancements, his attorney may be able to negotiate a sentence that does not include penalty enhancements. If not, the lawyer can present to the judge testimonials and evidence of Dwayne’s positive reputation and contribution to his community, which the judge can use to support a decision for a lighter sentence.
The Bottom Line
Why hire a criminal lawyer for felony charges? Because you can’t effectively represent yourself in a felony case. While the fictional Dwayne faces robbery charges, there are dozens of felonies – from battery to arson to sexual crimes – that can threaten your way of life. An Oakland criminal lawyer has relationships with prosecutors and a reputation that smooths the way for the best possible outcome in your case. Criminal attorneys not only understand the law, but they also have experience with cases that are similar to yours. That have the experience you need to protect yourself and your family from the very serious penalties that accompany felony convictions.