Most people know that if they are charged with a felony, then they need a lawyer. However, it can be harder to determine if an attorney is necessary when faced with a misdemeanor. Often, people believe that misdemeanor offenses aren’t “serious” or think that the repercussions of a conviction are minimal.
In fact, being convicted of a misdemeanor can have real consequences that can follow you the rest of your life. Before you decide that it’s wise to skip hiring a criminal attorney for your misdemeanor case, consider these points.
It’s Your Right
When facing any criminal charges, you have a right to an attorney based on the United States Constitution. Additionally, you can request a lawyer be present whenever you are being questioned by law enforcement in regards to being accused of a crime. In fact, if you want a lawyer present, and cannot afford one, the state will provide one to you to ensure your rights are protected.
Now, just because you can have a lawyer doesn’t always seem like enough of a reason to work with one. However, it is important to realize that you have other rights, and an attorney can help clarify your options in regards to exercising those rights while ensuring others don’t overstep.
Misdemeanors Carry Consequences
Any conviction, misdemeanor or felony, has the potential to complicate your life. Depending on the nature of the crime, it can prevent you from obtaining work with certain employers, and may prevent you from pursuing certain careers entirely. It can also limit your access to housing, certain financial products and loans, and family rights.
For example, in a child custody case, a person convicted of a misdemeanor may have trouble obtaining primary custody if the other parent does not have a record. Additionally, misdemeanor convictions may make it difficult, if not impossible, to adopt in some cases.
Hefty fines are also common with misdemeanor offenses, and some convictions do result in jail time. In fact, if you are unable to make bail, you may find yourself waiting in jail just for the opportunity to be heard, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent.
The issues associated with a misdemeanor conviction don’t necessarily ease with time. Unless you are able to get the record expunged or sealed, you may face the consequences for the rest of your life. To give a point of comparison, those who file for bankruptcy can expect that information to fall off their credit report in seven to 10 years depending on the exact circumstances. While bankruptcy isn’t a crime, it is one of the few actions a person can take with such lasting consequences, and even they are no longer accessible on a credit report once enough time has passed.
What to Do
Before you decide that you don’t need an attorney, consider the potential consequences associated with a conviction. Since you have a legal right to representation, you can often consult with a lawyer to determine exactly what the charges mean and how they can affect the rest of your life. And, since a lawyer will be provided if you can’t afford your own, you don’t have to worry about the financial obligations associated with simply exploring the possibility.
Once you have all of the information regarding how your life can change with a conviction, then you can determine how you want to proceed. It is important to understand that, even with a lawyer, the outcome is never guaranteed. However, you may feel more comfortable fighting against the conviction if you have a skilled attorney on your side. In the end, the decision is yours; just make sure you understand the potential consequences of the decision.