What are my rights when charged with a crime?

Here is a general overview of our rights when charged with a crime:
  1. You have the right to enter a plea of not guilty and have a trial either to the court or to a jury.
  2. You have a right to be represented by your attorney throughout the trial and at all proceedings leading up to the trial.
  3. If you do not have the money or means to hire an attorney, you may ask the court to appoint one for you without cost to you, and one may be appointed.
  4. You are presumed innocent of the charges pending against you, and that presumption of innocence will remain with you throughout the trial until the prosecution presents evidence to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
  5. At the trial you have the right to confront the witnesses called to testify against you and to cross­examine those witnesses.
  6. You have the right to present evidence in your own defense and to compel the attendance of witnesses by subpoenas issued by the Clerk of the Court.
  7. You have the right to remain silent at the trial or testify in your own defense. If you choose to remain silent, your silence cannot be used against you.
  8. After the trial is over, you have the right to appeal to a higher court to review the judgment of the court.

Is Invoking My Right To Remain Silent The Same Thing As Asking For An Attorney?

No. A criminal suspect's Miranda rights include being told they have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.  However, these are two separate rights and you must invoke both of them for both to be effective.  If you tell the police you do not want to talk, they must stop questioning you.  But if you only tell the police you do not want to talk they are not required to provide you with an attorney or ensure that you acquire an attorney on your own.  If you tell the police you want an attorney the police must then stop questioning you until you have an attorney present.  Do not ask the police if they think you need an attorney.  The police have no requirement to tell you, and simply asking if you should have an attorney does not invoke your right to one, the police may continue questioning you.  To ensure that all of your rights are protected invoke your explicit right to an attorney.

What happens at an arraignment?

You have the right to be arraigned without unnecessary delay ­ usually within a few court days ­after being arrested. You will appear before a judge who will tell you officially of the charges against you at your first arraignment. At the arraignment, an attorney may be appointed for you if you cannot afford one, and bail can be raised or lowered. You also can ask to be released on personal recognizance, even if bail was previously set.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you can plead guilty or not guilty at the arraignment. Or, if the court approves, you can plead nolo contendere, meaning that you will not contest the charges. Legally, this is the same as a guilty plea, but it cannot be used against you in a non­criminal case.

Before pleading guilty to some first time offenses, such as drug possession in small amounts for personal use, you may want to find out if your county has any drug diversion programs. Under these programs, instead of fining you or sending you to jail, the court may order you to get counseling which can result in dismissal of the charges if you complete the counseling.

If misdemeanor charges are not dropped, a trial will be held later in county court of law. If you are charged with a felony, however, and the charges are not dismissed, the next step is a preliminary hearing.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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