Q: How much jail time will I get?
A: If you've recently been arrested and charged with a crime, your first concern is probably the prospect of facing jail time. Keep in mind though, that without having thoroughly reviewed your case, it's impossible for any attorney to accurately guess whether or not you'll actually end up in jail and, if so, for how long . Be very wary of any attorney who makes predictions or guarantees without having seen the evidence and spoken with the DA, the judge, the victim, any witnesses, the investigating officers, etc.
Having a qualified, local attorney on your side can often reduce the likelihood that you'll end up in jail. Even if you are convicted and sentenced to serve custody, an experienced, knowledgeable attorney may be able to negotiate a way for you to serve your time without actually sitting in a jail cell. Alternative sentences may include house arrest, community service, counseling, or making a "donation" to some charitable group.
Q: What are the chances of having my DUI reduced to a "Wet & Reckless"?
A:"Wet & Reckless" ("W&R") driving is a reduced charge that is sometimes offered as part of a plea deal in DUI cases. When you plead guilty to W&R, you are essentially admitting that you violated some traffic law while you had a measurable amount of alcohol in your blood, but not that you were actually impaired by alcohol. The penalties for W&R are significantly lower than a DUI conviction. They usually carry little or no jail time, lower fines, and shorter alcohol classes.
The DA's willingness to offer a W&R typically depends on the strengths and weaknesses of your case. The more difficulty a DA anticipates in proving your guilt to a jury, the more likely he or she might be to propose a reduced charge during plea negotiations. Often, an experienced DUI defense attorney can convince the DA that the case against you is not as strong as they had initially believed. After thoroughly reviewing all of the relevant discovery in your case, your attorney might find evidence of sloppy police work, unreliable crime lab results, poorly preserved evidence, conflicting witness statements and other "technical" defenses that can be used to poke holes in the DA's case. Experienced prosecutors know when their case is weak. They're often eager to accept a reduced charge rather than risk losing at trial.
As mentioned though, it's impossible to guess whether or not you might have any technical defenses without spending a significant amount of time poring over the evidence in your case. After your attorney has had a chance to thoroughly review all the evidence, then he or she will have a better idea about the likelihood of negotiating a reduction in your charges.
Q: I was arrested for a marijuana-related offense, but I have a valid doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana. What's going on?
A: Medical marijuana law in California is much more complicated than many patients realize. Unfortunately, some patients learn this after being arrested. The laws governing medical marijuana are poorly written, inconsistent and constantly subject to contradictory interpretation by the courts. Even judges don't understand the law. An attorney who is well-versed in medical marijuana issues can make the difference between a conviction and a dismissal.
As a member of the NORML Legal Committee and long-time supporter of NORML, John W. Bussman is regarded as an authority on medical defenses to marijuana-related crimes.
Q: Should I spend my money on a private attorney or just go with the Public Defender?
A: When you're charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, your first decision must be whether or not to invest the money in hiring a private attorney. If you can prove that you have a very low income, no assets and no ability to hire your own attorney, you probably qualify for the services of the Public Defender's Office. Public Defenders are employed by the county to represent criminal defendants who cannot afford their own attorneys. If you have a steady job or significant assets, you might not qualify for the Public Defender's services.
Many people fall into the grey area: they have some money and could probably afford to hire an attorney if they wanted to, but they're also concerned about spending thousands of dollars, unsure what they'll actually get in return. They might qualify for the Public Defender's services based on their income, but they're not totally confident in the PD, based on horror stories that they've heard from friends or seen on TV.
There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to using the PD's services rather than hiring a private attorney. PDs are generally very experienced and knowledgeable because they're in the same courtroom all day, every day. They tend to have good relationships with judges and they know local procedures as well or better than any private attorney. Best of all, they're usually free (or cheap) for those individuals who qualify.
There are also strong advantages to hiring a private attorney if you have the resources to do so. Even though PDs are generally knowledgeable and highly experienced, their caseloads are notoriously heavy. Your PD probably has 75 clients just like you every single day. They have to juggle hundreds of open cases at a time with a very limited budget and scarce resources. Don't expect your PD to return your phone calls or to make himself available to sit and speak with you. There are simply not enough hours in the day for your PD to devote any quality time to your case.
As a private law firm, we can cap our caseload at a manageable number of clients, always making sure that we have sufficient time to devote to each case individually. Our business is built upon client relationships and we will work to earn your satisfaction. When you retain our office, you can rest easy knowing that your attorney is working tirelessly on your behalf. Our staff will promptly return your calls and will keep you well-informed so that you're prepared when it comes time to make important decisions regarding your case.
In most misdemeanor cases, a private attorney can appear in court on your behalf without you having to personally come to court.
If you have the resources to do so, your interests will be best served by retaining the services of an experienced, private attorney to handle your case.