Should You Get a Lawyer for a Misdemeanor?
If you've recently been arrested for a misdemeanor or know someone who has, the first thing you're probably wondering is whether you should get a lawyer or not. I've had my fair share of scrapes with the law and have had to go to court for both felonies and misdemeanors.
I know that many people who are arrested for their crimes deny that they did them and claim they are innocent, but I just happen to have very bad luck, because in my life I have been arrested more than once for crimes I did not do.
I was convicted of a misdemeanor once, which should have been easy to beat in court and to prove my innocence. I was also once arrested for a felony and had the charges dropped, even though this was a very serious crime and it looked as if I was definitely going to be heading for jail or prison for a long time. I was even once arrested for an infraction, which I chose to fight in court on my own and eventually had the charges dropped.
In two of those cases I had lawyers, but different types, and that's probably what made all the difference because in one situation (the misdemeanor) I was convicted and in the other I wasn't (the felony). But as you can see, you don't need a lawyer for everything you're arrested for, as I didn't need one to get my charges leading to an infraction dismissed.
So when it comes to misdemeanors, there's lots of different factors involved, though in most cases I would recommend that you get an attorney who can properly defend you. If you want the best chance of beating your charges, then here's some things you should probably know in order to make the best decision, if you're the one facing misdemeanor charges.
Misdemeanors are Serious
Do not assume that because a crime isn't a felony, that it's not considered a serious crime. Misdemeanors are still serious enough to where they can ruin your life, or at least make things very difficult for you. My life was completely altered when I was convicted of a misdemeanor. The problems actually started before I was even convicted of the crime.
I had many job interviews at the time, and when they did background checks they saw that I was arrested for a "violent crime". It was misdemeanor assault and battery, but I did not do the crime and told interviewers this, but they obviously didn't believe me. I was even working for Manpower at the time on a temporary assignment for 3 months, and after the first month my background check showed that I was arrested.
They chose to end my assignment after this, even though their application specifically stated the word "convicted" when asking about crimes. I had not been convicted yet, and I told them this, and they simply told me they would have to let me go anyways.
Even though applications or employment forms may only ask about felonies or may even say "a conviction will not automatically disqualify you for employment", the truth of the matter is that most employers do mentally disqualify you when they hear about this, whether you've been convicted or not and whether it's a misdemeanor or a felony. The really bad types of misdemeanors that you don't want to have are those that can be considered acts of violence, or those that are related to theft of any kind.
But just about any misdemeanor can cause you problems when you're looking for work or trying to apply for various programs or services. When I was arrested for my misdemeanor, I assumed that it wouldn't be a big deal because I did not do the crime and it wasn't a felony anyways. I always saw job applications mentioning felonies, and the applications which read "have you ever been convicted of any crime" weren't quite as common as those specifically mentioning felonies.
Type of Lawyer
I would recommend getting a lawyer, no matter what your charges are. But sometimes getting a lawyer can actually hurt your chances of winning your case. So while I would recommend getting an attorney, I would first make sure that you're getting the right kind for your case.
You need someone who has your best interests at heart and who will do everything they possibly can do to win your case for you. Without you they have no job, whether they're a public defender or a paid attorney. Some lawyers only do as much as they think they can get away with and don't put a lot of effort into helping their clients.
Inexperienced Public Defender
In the misdemeanor case where I was convicted of a crime I did not do, I had a public defender that was assigned to me. I had money at the time and could have hired a lawyer of my own, but I thought that it would be easy to win the case since I knew that I did not do the crime and because it was not a felony. I couldn't have been more wrong.
It probably would have been easy to win had I hired a decent lawyer. The public defender assigned to my case didn't take much time to listen to my story. I hadn't met her before until I was in court defending myself and she took me aside for a few minutes to ask me how I wanted to plead. When I began telling her my side of the story as to what happened, she told me that she didn't have much time because she had to defend 20 other cases that day.
Yes, believe it or not, my public defender who is supposed to be helping me stay out of jail actually told me this. She told me that she spoke to the prosecutor and that they agreed that if I pleaded guilty to the assault charge, the prosecutor would drop the battery charge and I wouldn't have to do jail time. Nothing scared me more than jail and my public defender wasn't exactly trying to win my case for me so I was paranoid that I might end up having to do jail time.
So I cracked under the pressure that day and ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge that I did not do. I was then ordered to pay money to the court and to do a few weeks of community service at a homeless shelter but I stayed out of jail.
Experienced Paid Lawyer
When I was arrested for a felony it was a violent crime and seemed to be a very hard case for someone to argue in order to get me off the hook.
But a person I knew recommended a good lawyer to me and although I was 18 at the time, I had a very supportive mother who had a little money saved up to hire the lawyer for me.
This lawyer cost $2,500, and all he did in order to get my charges dropped was he wrote a note to the state prosecutor who was trying to convict me. He did this before the trial even started and after I had been bailed out of jail, but it worked and I never had to go to court for the crime.
In my case, it was mostly self-defense and that's the angle my lawyer argued, which wasn't a lie. But it seemed very hard to prove this and I was almost certain that I would have to go to court and would be convicted of the crime.
My mother is really the main person responsible for me getting off the hook because she's the one who put the money up to hire the lawyer, but it was also because of that particular lawyer and his expertise that I was able to get off the hook and had my case dismissed and the charges dropped.
But it did cost me $2,500 which I had to pay back to my mother in order to get this lawyer to write a one page letter for me to the prosecutor. So although he was a very efficient lawyer, he came at a high price.
If you have a really good lawyer, they can sometimes get your case dropped. They can do this a number of different ways, and if there's any possibility of having your misdemeanor charges dropped, it can be well worth the money.
Sometimes, if the lawyer has a strong enough reputation, the prosecutor may choose to drop the charges rather than fight the case. They may realize that if they lose the case, it will look worse than if they simply drop the charges and move on to the next case that they have a better chance at winning.
So getting a lawyer who is well known or who has a lot of experience, can actually scare the prosecutor out of prosecuting you. In order for this to happen, the prosecutor must really believe that they don't have much chance of winning against your attorney.
There's lots of times where prosecutors know you're innocent and will try to convict you anyways to improve their reputation for winning cases. So if they see you don't have an attorney, or one that isn't very reputable, then they may choose to continue trying to prosecute you, even if they have doubts about whether you're guilty or not.
Having a good lawyer can also get your case dropped if they present evidence to the prosecutor or state, either during or before a trial. In my case, my lawyer did some research and found out that the person who I defended myself against had a very extensive criminal history, as well as police complaints against him for intimidating people in the area where I had a problem with him. If I had tried to defend myself in court, I may not have been prepared or had that evidence to show that he was a bad character.
This was crucial to prove that I was not the aggressor and that I was simply defending myself. Without evidence against his character, it would simply look like I attacked this person and I probably would have been convicted.
So getting an attorney, and one who actually cares about defending you and their reputation, can help you gather evidence to help your case in places you normally wouldn't think to look for it. They know what they're doing and they're paid to do that, so they can come up with better ideas most of the time than you can in how to best prepare a defense.
Plea bargains can be tools that all types of lawyers use for a number of reasons. If you have a decent lawyer, they can use these legal tools to help you out and reduce charges to a level you're satisfied with.
If you have a bad lawyer, then they will use plea bargains to save themself some energy and will claim that it's a good deal for you, when it really isn't. This is what I believe happened with my misdemeanor assault and battery case.
My inexperienced public defender did not want to exhaust all her resources to help me because she was overwhelmed with the number of cases she had to defend, so she went straight for the plea bargain rather than trying to hear my side of the story. Had she listened to my side of the story, she probably would have been able to gather more evidence such as security footage from the scene that would have proved my innocence.
After looking back on my ordeal, I realize there's many things she could have done to prove my innocence instead of trying to convince me to take a plea bargain for a crime I was innocent of.
The main reason you should get a competent lawyer for a misdemeanor is because, as mentioned before, a misdemeanor charge can ruin your life.
Microsoft, for example, was ready to hire me at one point for a good job and after the background check came back I was told that they would be unable to hire me.
Even some fast food jobs will turn you down for a simple misdemeanor this day in age, because so many people are out of work and employers can afford to be picky about who they hire. It took me 5 years of working menial jobs and being homeless before I was able to finally pay $160 to get my record cleared and get my life back in order.
The conviction took a toll on me mentally because it's very frustrating when you know you're innocent of something but everybody believes you did it. A conviction in a court of law is as good as proof to most people that you did something.
A conviction can turn your life upside down very easily so definitely make sure you get a good lawyer even for the smallest of cases because it's worth it in the end.
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