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Frequently Asked Questions

General

What if I’m arrested?

If you’ve been arrested, it is extremely important that you say NOTHING to law enforcement. They already have your basic information, and this is all they need. Even if you are completely innocent, if you’ve been arrested, law enforcement believes that you have committed a crime and they are trying to build a case against you. They are not questioning you to “get your side of the story.” The only person you should speak with is an experienced criminal defense attorney.

How do I choose a good defense attorney?

The best thing you can do to ensure that you have a good defense attorney is to ask for details about prior cases they have handled. Unfortunately, simply having a license to practice law is all that is required to represent someone in a criminal matter. As a result, anyone with a law license and a little bit of money can produce a TV commercial or place their face on a billboard and mislead people into believing that they are qualified to handle complex criminal matters. Any criminal defense attorney that is worth hiring will be able to provide you with a list of cases that they have handled successfullyAdditionally, if you are currently represented by a Public Defender, but want to retain a private attorney, ask your Public Defender whom you should contact. Public Defenders have the benefit of being in court on a daily basis, allowing them the opportunity to see many of the local attorneys and gauge their competence in various types of criminal cases.

Do I need a lawyer immediately?

If you’ve been arrested, or believe you are under investigation by law enforcement you need an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The onset of any criminal investigation is oftentimes when cases are made or broken. If you wait to hire an attorney, you have given law enforcement a head start in building a case against you, and by then, much of the damage is already done.

Can’t I just use the Public Defender?

Public Defenders are attorneys that are appointed to represent you by the Court. While many Public Defenders are very good attorneys, there are certain limitations to utilizing their services: 1) Public Defenders cannot represent you until they have been appointed by the Court, which will be no sooner than your first court appearance after you’ve been arrested, sometimes weeks or even months after the incident; 2) Public Defender’s are often inexperienced, especially in the early stages of felony cases and in nearly all misdemeanor cases. While you may be lucky enough to be appointed a very experienced Public Defender, the chance of that happening at the early stages of any case is slim. The last place you want to find yourself in is having a Public Defender learn how to practice as a criminal defense attorney on YOUR case; 3) Public Defenders will have possibly hundreds of other cases on their desk, and while they may care very much about your case, they have to spread themselves very thinly to cover everybody’s case. An experienced and privately retained criminal defense attorney will have time to devote to your case.

Shouldn’t I retain an attorney from Los Angeles?

No! Los Angeles attorneys are not experienced in Kern County Courts and often fall under the mistaken belief that cases in Kern County are handled the same way as they are in Los Angeles. This could not be farther from the truth! There is a saying amongst attorneys who are familiar with the Kern County criminal justice system, “If you can practice criminal defense in Kern County, you can practice criminal defense anywhere!” This is due to the fact that Kern County is extremely tough on crime. Attorneys that are not experienced in Kern County courts often mislead their clients with unrealistic expectations of how particular cases will be resolved. Kern County cases require local criminal defense attorneys. Consider the case of Mike R. …

What if I believe I’m under investigation?

If you have reason to believe you are being investigated for any criminal activity, you should assume that you are. Do not speak with anyone other than an experienced criminal defense attorney about the nature of the investigation, including over the phone. Law enforcement may contact you and ask you for “your side.” They may even set up a controlled call in which you are recorded without your knowledge. Do not speak with them, or anyone other than an attorney about the case!

Should I talk on the phone from jail?

It is highly recommended that the only people you speak with from the jailhouse phone are a bail bondsman or an experienced criminal defense attorney, and even then, DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE FACTS OF YOUR CASE. All calls made from the jail are recorded and may be forwarded to law enforcement or the District Attorney. Good defense cases turn bad all too often when clients talk on the phone!

What if the police want to search my car or residence?

Never give law enforcement permission to search your car or residence. There are certain circumstances in which they can search even without your permission, but if they ask for permission, it is reasonable to assume that they can’t legally search without it. If a search warrant is shown to you, do not interfere with their search, call an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

Can the police record me without my knowledge?

Yes, this is why it is critical that you not talk about your case, even if you are innocent or are speaking with someone you can trust. The only person you should speak with is an experienced criminal defense attorney.

What is the criminal court procedure?

Depending on whether you have been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, the court procedure may differ very slightly.

For misdemeanors, you will most likely be given a date to appear in court for your arraignment. This is a hearing before a judge, during which you are advised of the charges that have been filed against you and asked to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. If you wish to plead guilty, the Court will advise you of how it will sentence you and your case may be resolved that day. IT IS NEVER WISE TO ENTER A PLEA OF GUILTY AT THE ARRAIGNMENT. After you have plead guilty, you will be given a date for a pre-trial hearing. At the pre-trial hearing, the District Attorney will make an offer to you in exchange for your plea of guilty or no contest. If you accept that offer, your case is resolved that day. If you choose to reject that offer, your case will be set for Jury Trial.

For felonies, at your arraignment, the Court or your attorney will enter a protective plea of not guilty and you will be given two court dates: a pre-preliminary hearing date and a preliminary hearing date. On the date of the pre-preliminary hearing, the District Attorney will make you an offer in exchange for your plea of guilty. If the case is not resolved that day, you will return for your preliminary hearing. At this hearing, the District Attorney will call witnesses in order to present evidence to the judge which to establish that your case should be set for trial, rather than be dismissed for insufficient evidence. After the preliminary hearing, your case may involve require the litigation of certain motions before what is called the readiness hearing. The readiness hearing is a final opportunity to resolve the case before going to jury trial. At the readiness hearing, the District Attorney will once again make you an offer in an effort to settle the case without going to jury trial. If the case is not resolved it will proceed to jury trial.

Do offers from the District Attorney get better as case get closer to jury trial?

In Kern County, it is typical that offers in felony cases DO NOT GET BETTER as jury trial nears. Oftentimes, your best offer will come BEFORE THE PRELIMINARY HEARING. This is why it is imperative that you be represented at the early stages by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Do all felonies count as “Strikes” on your record?

No, not all felonies are Strikes. Strikes are limited to certain felonies which are categorized as either “serious” or “violent” felonies. The law on Strike issues is extremely complex. If you believe you have a Strike, but are not sure, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Does my juvenile record count against me?

A common misconception among those with a juvenile record is that prior juvenile adjudications cannot be used against them when they are later charged with criminal conduct as an adult.  In fact, the entire record (including juvenile) of a defendant will be known to both the District Attorney and the Court when an adult is charged with a crime. In many respects, juvenile adjudications are treated no differently than adult priors. It is also important to keep in mind that in certain circumstances, juvenile adjudications can be counted as “Strike” priors, thereby seriously enhancing potential punishment for pending adult charges. The extent to which juvenile priors may be used against an adult in a pending criminal matter can raise highly complex legal issues requiring the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Can I get a prior conviction “expunged” from my record?

For most purposes, many prior convictions, even felonies, can be removed from your record. Unfortunately, there are certain circumstances under which the prior is still applicable. If you want to have a prior removed from your record, or if you have questions about the applicability of a prior that you believe has been “expunged,” you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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