How to prepare for legal actions, and what to expect
Criminal court is the State bringing charges against the accused for some crime “against the state,” which would include robbery or murder or any number of illegal things. The State tries to show that the accused is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It is the duty of the State to show guilt, not the duty of the accused to show that they are innocent.
The police investigate a crime, find evidence or witnesses to that crime, then (unless the police actually see a crime) they obtain a warrant from the District attorney’s office and arrest the person accused of the crime. An affidavit signed by the person witnessing the crime or by the police officer, stating what evidence they have that A) a crime was committed and B) that this person is actually the one who did it, is filed with the county clerk’s office is used to obtain the warrant for arrest.
The accused has a right to an attorney present before they are questioned, and if they can not afford one, then they are provided a court appointed and paid attorney to represent them.
A person who is arrested is entitled to “bail” in all but some heinous crimes. Bail is either security or money put up to ensure that if the accused is released from jail prior to the trial that they will actually show up for the trial. Depending on how much evidence has been collected and on how serious the crime is, and on the “ties to the community” that would make the accused less likely to flee, the amount of bail is set.
The hearing for Bail will usually be held very soon, usually no more than 3 days, after the arrest. The accused may also be asked to “plea” either guilty, not guilty, or no contest at that time. No Contest means simply that “I did it, but won’t say I did, but I’m not contesting the charges.”
Normally, if the bail is say $10,000, a person would have to have enough property to sign over to cover that in case they skipped, AND also pay a bail bondsman $1000 for the fee for the bond. The bondsman is empowered to track down someone who skips or they lose their bail money. If you put up your own money and skip, the money is forfeit to the court.
Keep in mind that if you put up bail money for someone else, or give your home as security, that if they skip, your property or money is forfeit to the State and you could lose this property or money.
Many times if the crime is not “too serious” and the person is connected to the community they will be let out without actual payment, just a promise to show up. Without bail or being released on their own, then the person will remain in jail until the trial. Many times juveniles will be released to their parents if the crime is not too serious.
Various states do things a bit differently, but ultimately it is up to the District Attorney, which is usually an elected position, to decide if there is enough evidence to proceed with prosecution for an offense. The District Attorney (DA) may also refer the case to a Grand Jury, which is a secret process, where people who testify give only the evidence against the person, if the jury which may be many more than the 12 jurors on a “petty jury,” like you would see at a trial, hear this evidence and return a “true bill” if they think there is a good chance the person is guilty. No attorneys are allowed to represent the witnesses at these events. However, the testimony is secret at that time to protect witnesses and to protect the accused as well. Usually very important cases are taken to the Grand Jury. Even if the Grand Jury finds a “true bill” then the DA can still decline to process. That happened in the JonBenet Ramsey case http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/25/justice/jonbenet-ramsey-documents/
If you are accused of a crime, it is generally best to not speak to the police without an attorney present. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. Also most States and Counties now video record their interviews and witnesses. Interestingly enough, the FBI does NOT record interviews on video at this time.
Even if you are a witness to a serious crime, I suggest that you have an attorney present to advise you for your interviews.
Sometimes even when there has been a crime committed, and even if the police or you are pretty sure who did it, there is not enough evidence for the police to proceed with prosecution. If you have been robbed or hurt this is very frustrating. Many times the police will “take a report” but no further action is taken on their part, such as in many home break ins unless there is serious personal injury.
First, and foremost, is the “acceptance” of the situation. I divorced a man that I had been married to for almost 13 years. This man married me for three purposes: to access my private investments; to have a “safe” mommy-figure; and, to have a “cloak of respectability” to hide who and what he really is. This man defrauded me of all my savings and investments. Forged signatures and committed crimes against me.
All of the “good times” and so forth were 100% illusion – a fabrication – a betrayal. He was able to do what he did simply because he did not care – did not care, ever. And, I had to come to accept this as a fact even though I didn’t like the fact, and the fact, itself, was very painful to me.
Going to the police and trying to recover some of the money he stole from me was a very stressful experience. It is vital to learn how to separate our emotions from the facts. Face it, sometimes people “get away with” criminal acts.
If a criminal act has been charged against someone you love this is a very traumatic situation for both you and the loved one.
First I suggest that you look at the situation unemotionally, and this may mean either talking to an attorney, and/or a therapist. Some questions you might want the answer to are:
- • How serious is the crime?
- • Is my loved one probably guilty?
- • What is the attitude of my loved one?
- • Has my loved one committed serious crimes before? Is there a pattern there?
- • What is the potential consequences of this crime in terms of jail or prison sentence?
The “Do’s and Don’ts” in Criminal matters if a loved one is charged:
- • DO engage in counseling therapy to help process and separate facts from emotions
- • DO support your loved one if their past behaviors are incongruent with the charges – i.e., Johnny/Suzie has never exhibited symptoms of any personality disorder, and this is strictly out of character with their usual behaviors
- • DO examine past behaviors in comparison to the charges filed – is there a history of deception, manipulation, greed, dishonesty, drug/substance abuse, etc. – and recognize that your loved one may very well be guilty of the crime(s)
- • DO enforce “No Contact” if your loved one is guilty of serious crimes until such time as they have paid their “debt to society,” stood accountable for their actions, and demonstrated that they have taken steps to change – just because the offender may share DNA or be in a contract of marriage does not mean that we, the non-offenders, are required to “forgive and forget.” If the offender has harmed someone else, it is likely that you have also been damaged by their actions
- • DO NOT allow the offender to drag you into their life and courtroom dramas – work out your feelings and emotions in therapy, and keep all interactions with the loved one strictly business if you determine that you must interact with them
- • DO NOT allow yourself to be guilt-tripped or shamed into posting bail or paying for a defense attorney – you may “love” this person, but you didn’t commit the crime and, regardless of the outcome, you could lose everything you own with the false belief that you’re “helping” someone that you care about
- • DO NOT allow yourself to feel obligated to make excuses or explain your loved one’s situation to anyone – again, you did not commit the crime, and you aren’t responsible for your loved one’s actions
- DO NOT accept excuses for the offender’s actions, choices, and decisions
- DO NOT allow yourself to believe that you are alone and that you are obligated to carry the burden of your loved one’s actions – many, many non-offenders out there have experienced what you’re experiencing, and they will help you along your path of healing
- • DO NOT end your counseling until your therapist has determined that you’re ready and prepared to move forward without their guidance – there will come a time when your recovery has developed its own inertia
It is my firmest belief that it is a personal imperative to engage in strong counseling therapy before, during, and after legal proceedings, especially for the folks whose loved ones have been charged with criminal activities and are awaiting trial
and most of us who have experienced supporting an offender in the family do not want the evidence to be true or factual, and accepting that our loved one is, indeed, a criminal, is no easy task. Counseling is important to help us through the grieving process and to help us to separate our emotions from the business-at-hand.
If you loved one commits a crime, the neighbors will not usually come to your door to comfort you, or even in some cases the family may not be of comfort to you. Some members of your family may insist that you hire an attorney (at an expense you can’t afford) for a loved one who has a history of criminal behavior. There are many many things that can put pressure on you. The first and last order of business, though, is that you take care of yourself first!