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When You Are Charged With An Offense, Will You Know If It Is A Misdemeanor Or Felony Charge?

Interviewer: We’ll talk about a little bit of basics.  When someone’s charged, do they know if it’s misdemeanor or felony? Do they know going in how serious it could be?

Attorney: Some people don’t realize how serious it is. Again, if the detective is talking to them on the telephone, they have no idea. They don’t even know what the charges it would be. The attorney usually finds out what the potential charges are and what does that mean to the client.

I’ve had people come to me who went to court the first time, whether it was at the arraignment to plead not guilty or even a subsequent court appearance and thank goodness the judge said to the person, “I’m giving you another court date. You better go out and get a lawyer.”

Most People Are Unaware of the Consequences of an Offense

I had these people come to me and they did not realize how severe it was. We even have issues in New York of traffic infractions or traffic misdemeanors. People don’t realize that if it’s not handled properly, you may receive a traffic violation, have no criminal record but you could lose your car. The county could forfeit or seize your car.

Conviction for a Traffic Offense Can Lead to the County Seizing Your Vehicle

Rather than pay a lawyer for the court appearance, they agree to a plea bargain on their own, pled guilty to a violation, and a judge is not there to give advice to a defendant or an accused. As long as it’s a traffic violation, the judges allow people to represent themselves. Then, people come and say, “I’ve just realized I lost my car.”

With Some Offenses, the Judge Has No Discretion and Must Impose a Jail Sentence

We’ve had that situation and I’ve had people come in under the impression they were charged with just a misdemeanor and explain to them that it’s not a misdemeanor. It’s a felony and if it isn’t handled properly, the minimum requires jail time. They absolutely have to have a lawyer who knows what to do with this because even if the judge wants to grant them mercy, the judge has no discretion. By law, they have to go to jail.

Only a lawyer can try to have the case reduced to a lesser charge or if necessary, fully defend the charge and try to defeat it at trial.