If you’re facing criminal charges, it’s normal to feel scared or nervous about what might happen. It’s not just first-time offenders who feel this way. Even when you’re familiar with the process, not knowing what’s in your future can be nerve-wracking.
When you’re charged with a criminal offense, there will always be unknowns, but you can start preparing for these five things right now.
1. Interacting with your attorney
Be prepared to interact with your attorney while under severe emotional stress. No matter how you feel, always treat your attorney with respect. You might feel like arguing or fighting with your lawyer when you don’t like where things are headed. It’s normal to feel stressed out, but you don’t need to act on your feelings.
Treat your attorney as a professional, but also a friend. Your attorney is going to be your rock throughout your entire ordeal. You’ll need to lean on them for guidance and trust their advice. They know things you can’t possibly know. For example, your attorney will know what moves the prosecution will make against you and their advice will be based on this knowledge.
According to Kyle Whitaker, a criminal defense attorney from Fort Worth, “if you’ve been accused of a serious crime, hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney is the first step you should take. Even if you believe you’re innocent, law enforcement will do everything in its power to build a case against you.”
It’s hard to have faith in another person when your whole life is about to change, but no matter what happens, trust your attorney’s intentions. Your lawyer is the only person who can influence a favorable outcome for your case.
2. Being disappointed with a public defender
Your attorney will fight hard to get your charges dropped or reduced as much as possible. However, be prepared to be disappointed if you’ve hired a public defender. If you can afford an attorney, it’s worth paying for a private attorney.
Public defenders aren’t bad lawyers, but they are extremely busy and underpaid. Since the state pays their salary, they don’t make as much as other attorneys. This shouldn’t affect their ability to provide services, but it’s an unfortunate side effect of an overburdened system.
Public defenders have massive caseloads, which means they don’t get to spend as much time or attention on each of their clients. This lack of time negatively impacts all of their cases. Sometimes they don’t have enough time to review and reflect on the details of their cases, and often, they miss important details.
Private attorneys, on the other hand, will only take on as many cases as they can comfortably handle. They are also overworked at times, but they aren’t underpaid. Private attorneys don’t need to take on stacks of clients just to pay the bills. This means your case will get the proper time and attention.
3. Addressing the court properly
When you’re in a courtroom, you’ll want to address the judge as “your honor” or “sir/ma’am” in your speech. Some people don’t naturally use these words, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with simply being polite and direct. Just avoid calling a judge any kind of slang title (like “dude” or “bro”).
If you’re not sure how to speak in court, ask your attorney to roleplay with you a little bit. It’s not hard, but when you’re nervous and going into an unfamiliar situation, even the small things can seem huge.
Always think before you speak, and take an extra second to pause before answering any question. Answering questions on autopilot could get you in trouble if your responses come from a defensive place. As long as you maintain a professional attitude and keep your speech clean, you’ll do fine in the courtroom.
4. Your sentence
You can’t predict your exact sentence, but you can get a good idea of what you might be facing. Ask your attorney what type of sentence you might receive, and what the maximum penalties are for your conviction(s). For instance, if you’re convicted of a DWI or DUI, you might be required to install an ignition interlock system on your vehicle to keep your license.
It’s good to know what you might face in a worst-case scenario; you don’t want to be shocked by your sentence. Now for the good news. Unless you did something really bad, you probably won’t be handed the maximum penalty for your crime(s). Also, if you’ve already spent time in jail, you’ll probably get credit for time served.
5. Surviving in jail or prison
If you’re facing serious charges, be prepared to spend some time in jail or prison. From the outside, it might not seem like there’s anything to prepare for, but being locked up can be a nightmare.
· Sleep challenges. Be prepared to sleep on a thin mat that may not have a pillow attached. Unfortunately, making your own pillow can be considered contraband. You might have to make do with a t-shirt for a pillow.
· Noise. Be ready to listen to screaming, yelling, and fighting around the clock. You probably won’t sleep very well your first few nights. Not all corrections officers force inmates to quiet down.
· Drugs. Many jails and prisons are full of drugs. Be prepared to see other inmates using all kinds of drugs, and they may be offered to you.
· Don’t make yourself a target. The most important thing to prepare for is not making yourself a target. Inmates will be eyeballing you the second you walk into the room, looking for signs of weakness.
Don’t freely hand out favors or commissary items thinking you’re making friends. Generosity is only a virtue on the outside. In jail or prison, generosity will make you a target for theft, harassment, and violence.
Stay professional at all times
Keep your focus on maintaining professionalism at all times. Being professional in the courtroom won’t get you off the hook, but it will make you look better to the judge.