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Criminal Defense FAQ

Presented by San Bernardino Criminal Defense Attorney McDonald

What Are a Person's Rights Before Being Arrested?

All suspects have and should always invoke the right to remain silent. This ensures that the suspect, in the heat of the moment, will not incriminate himself and give the police evidence they would not otherwise have.

Many convictions are only made possible by statements the accused has given to the police about the crime. All of us, because of the Constitution, have the right to be free of "unreasonable search and seizure," though this right is accompanied by exceptions and regulations. Don't let the police into your house without a search warrant! Anyone arrested has the right to an attorney, a right which should be exercised.

When Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are under investigation for a crime, being questioned by law enforcement officers, of if you are charged with a crime, you need a criminal defense attorney. If convicted of a state or federal offense, you face fines, incarceration, probation, community service, or other penalties. A criminal conviction will remain on your record, which may cause you to have difficulty in gaining employment, leasing an apartment, or getting student loans.

If you have previous convictions, these may be used to increase your penalties. In some cases, previous convictions may cause a current misdemeanor to be charged as a felony. Some people try to navigate the criminal justice system alone, without a lawyer. These individuals, who are representing themselves "pro per" almost always end up hurting their cause.

The court and the prosecutors give no breaks to defendants choosing to represent themselves. If you represent yourself, you are held to the same standards and rules as a lawyer. Since you likely are not a lawyer, you are at a great disadvantage going against a prosecuting attorney. There is a reason lawyers have to spend so long in school and take a very difficult bar exam. Representing yourself in a criminal case is just plain stupid.

What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

Generally speaking, a felony is a crime that is punishable in the state prison. Misdemeanors are lesser offenses and are punishable by up to a year in a county jail. Sentencing laws have recently changed, allowing some state prisoners to serve their sentence in the county jail.

When Will the Police Get a Warrant to Make an Arrest?

When the police have "probable cause", Probable cause means that the police have enough evidence to convince a judge that the suspect for whom the warrant is sought "more likely than not" committed a crime in question. When the police get the warrant, they can serve it wherever they can find you.

What if the Police Want to Search My Car or My House?

There are only two ways the police can get into your personal space, such as your car or home. It the police want to search your car, they must first have "reasonable suspicion" that you have committed a crime that justifies searching your car. They can't just search your car or your person because they have pulled you over! The will usually ask for consent to search your person or car.

Always tell them "No!" If you give consent, they can search and your lawyer will not be able to have the evidence they find thrown out due to an illegal search. When you say "No" after the police ask to search your car, ask them to then write in the police report that you did not consent. Lots of cases are made based upon what the police find in your car.

The police can also search your car if you have been arrested near it as "incident to your arrest." Finally, if your vehicle is towed to impound, the police can search it to "inventory" its contents. All of these searches are calculated to discover evidence that will be used against you. Be careful what you leave in your car!

Your home is your castle! Never, never consent to let the police inside for any reason. Once they are inside, they will claim they found all sorts of incriminating evidence. Greet them at the doorway and demand a search warrant. Except in some unusual cases, the police cannot ever come inside your house, or yard without a search warrant.

Don't open yourself up to prosecution because you let the police inside your home. To get a search warrant, the police have to have quite a bit of evidence, and then a judge has to sign the warrant. If the warrant is not properly put together, we can have the warrant and all of the evidence along with it, thrown out.

If the Police Question Me, How Can I Defend Myself?

You tell them that you are pleading your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The police have no right to make you tell them anything. You must ask to have an attorney present when questioned. Don't be vague about it. Simply say, "I have nothing to say. I want a lawyer." If you are harassed by a police officer after you have told them you won't speak, your civil rights may be violated and this may cause any case against you to be dismissed.

Talk to the San Bernardino criminal defense lawyer at our firm to learn more. Never, under any circumstances should you agree to be interviewed by the police! Most convictions are the result of what you tell the police during an interrogation. Simply say "I want to talk to a lawyer!" Don't say another word. On rare occasions, we allow our client to be interviewed by law enforcement. Those interviews occur at our offices and on our terms. Such interviews only take place when we are convinced it will benefit the client in some fashion. Don't go to the police station and don't talk to a cop alone!

Are you under investigation for a criminal offense in the San Bernardino area? Contact a San Bernardino Criminal Defense Lawyer at our firm today.

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