I just received a letter in the mail saying I have court, what do I do next? That letter in the mail is likely a summons, or order to appear. That hearing is likely an arraignment hearing which is a hearing that starts the criminal process going. One of the first things to do is consider retaining counsel. Or start thinking of the qualifies that you are looking for in counsel.
It’s important if you do decide to hire counsel to have them at your arraignment hearing because it is an exceptionally important hearing where the judge can determine conditions of release, or the rules that you have to follow while your case is pending or even bail, so having an attorney at your side from that very first hearing is the best way to stay out of custody and stay away from overly restrictive conditions while the case is pending.
If I committed this crime, shouldn’t I just go to court and plead guilty? No. This is a complex issue, and the short answer is that you have the right to have someone by your side advocating for you, looking into your case, making sure that it is fair, making sure that if you do ultimately decide to resolve it by some sort of a plea or offer that it is one that is fair and reasonable to you.
The maximum sentence for most misdemeanors is 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine, so it is important that you hire someone that you can go in and advocate on your behalf even if you feel you did it because you still deserve the fairest outcome.
What if I missed my court date or I can’t make the date? It’s important to get in touch with your attorney, if you have retained one, right away. If you have missed your court date you likely have a warrant out for your arrest, which is very significant and will get you at the worst time. One time I had a client get arrested on the way to his wedding. One time it was on the way home from international travel.
In terms of a warrant, when I am retained, I take steps to get that taken care of, whether it is working with a bail bonds person or the court in order to keep you out of custody without that anxiety when the case is pending. If they sent you a notice to appear and you are on vacation, contact your lawyer right away, and oftentimes we can do a motion and order to set it over a week or so. The key thing is communication.