- Pretrial Hearing
- Plea Bargaining
- Appeals in a Criminal Case
Do not talk to anyone about your case without first discussing the matter with your Arkansas criminal attorney. You may discuss anything concerning your case with your attorney because these matters are recognized to be confidential. Remember, however, that this confidential privilege extends only to discussions between you and your attorney and your attorney's staff. Anything you tell your family, friends or others such as cellmates is not confidential, and the court can compel those people to testify about what you have said whether they want to or not.
Law enforcement will investigate an allegation of crime, unless they witness the actual events, such as stopping someone for speeding and finding drugs in the car. The police or prosecutor will often try to interview you, prior to charges being filed. Always check with your Arkansas criminal lawyer before talking to anyone about your case, particularly those in law enforcement.
At the time of your arrest, the police and prosecutors rarely have all the evidence needed to convict you of the crime you are charged with. The police may express an interest in helping you. Keep in mind, however, that one of their duties is to solve crimes, and if they did not already think you were guilty, you would not be charged and in jail. Do not discuss your case with anyone without first talking to your criminal defense attorney and getting the benefit of your attorney's advice.
The U.S. Pretrial Services Agency is the federal agency that will be interviewing you to prepare a "report" to the court. This report will be used to determine whether you will be eligible to post bond. If so, then it will supervise the conditions of your pretrial release. You should be aware that anything you say during these interviews may be used against you later in determining a sentence if you are convicted. A copy of the report, including your responses, will be provided to the prosecutor, as well as to the court. Since there is this risk, you are entitled to speak with an attorney before being interviewed. You should fully discuss the risks involved in this process before proceeding and, like most items discussed on this page, get the benefit of legal advice before making decisions.
There will be a brief appearance before a judge, a plea of not guilty will be entered, and in most cases a jury trial will be requested. If you later wish to waive your right to a jury trial and the prosecutor has no objection, you may have a trial before a judge.
From this point on, your attorney will be gathering the facts and law necessary to advise you of the strength of the prosecution's case, any defenses you may have, the possible sentence you may face if you are convicted, and whether the attorney feels your interests are better served by a trial or a plea of guilty to one or more of the charges. Each case is different. Complicated cases take more time to investigate, evaluate, and prepare for trial than do simple cases. Your attorney will be doing whatever is necessary to prepare your case as quickly as possible. Remember, however, that complete investigation may take several weeks or months. Taking the time necessary to prepare your case properly may save you years in prison, and any time spent at this stage of the proceedings, even if you are in pretrial confinement, is worth it.
The main point to remember is that your attorney can best advise you only after your case has been fully investigated and it has been determined what level of punishment the government is seeking. Your attorney will then assist you in making the final decisions on matters, which might affect your Constitutional rights. You will be kept fully informed by letter or personal visit as your case progresses. If at any time, you do not understand any matters in your case, write or call your attorney, and your questions will be fully explained to you.
While the law provides only limited access to the prosecutor's evidence against you, it is important for your lawyer to find out as much as possible about your case. To the extent possible, your attorney will take certain steps (called discovery) to learn more about the prosecutor's case against you. It is very important to know the witnesses who are expected to be used against you and to obtain copies of any law enforcement reports or other documents that may be available in your case. Your attorney will, in all likelihood, check with the prosecutor's office to get some idea of the prosecutor's feeling about your case. Whenever we talk to a prosecutor, or an adverse witness, we are very careful not to disclose any of the confidential information that you have told us or reveal any confidential strategy or work product of our investigation.
Before or after investigating your case, your attorney may feel it is appropriate to file a motion, which may be heard before or at trial. These motions may be requesting that evidence or statements not be admitted at your trial, or alleging that the government has failed to provide you with your rights, such as the right to a speedy trial. Again, to best represent you, your attorney must be involved in all matters before the court and you should never file your own motions without fully discussing the proper procedures with your criminal attorney in Arkansas.
If any motions are filed in your case, they will most likely be heard at this time. Also, if you decide that you want a trial before the judge, instead of a jury, you will waive your right to a jury trial at this time.
Your right to a trial by jury is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Any decision to plead guilty, accept a plea agreement, waive trial by jury or anything else to give up any constitutional right is exclusively your decision to make. Your attorney will fully advise you as to your options and the benefit or risk of each option and give you their recommendation as to the decision that is in your best interest. However, the final decision is yours to make.
In practice, there are many things that can extend the time of a trial. Remember that your attorney has considerable experience in representing people in criminal cases, and much that happens in the trial process involves strategic decisions of how and when issues should be presented. In these matters, your attorney will keep you informed of why they have made certain decisions, but you must have the confidence in your attorney to allow these decisions to be the attorney's alone.
There are still many decisions which you will need to make, after being advised of all the circumstances surrounding your case. For instance, you must decide whether you want a trial by jury or a trial by judge. In a jury trial, twelve people will listen to the witnesses and the evidence presented, and they will make the decision of guilty or not guilty. Their decision must be unanimous. If the jury finds you guilty, they will set your punishment within the limits set by law.
In a trial by judge (Bench Trial), the judge will listen to the witnesses and the evidence presented, and he alone will make the decision of guilty or not guilty. If the Judge finds you guilty, he alone will set your punishment within the limits set by law.
There are many things to consider, such as what you are charged with, the judge involved, and whether your defense is based on the facts or on the law. You should discuss all of these things with your attorney.
Another decision you make is whether to testify on your own behalf. No one can force you to testify if you do not wish to, and the fact that you did not testify can not be considered in determining whether you are guilty or not. The prosecutor can not even mention that you did not testify.
These are just a few of the decisions that you will have to make if your case goes to trial. There are many other considerations that you will discuss with your attorney during the course of your case. Stay informed, and do not be afraid to ask questions.
After a judge or jury returns a verdict of guilty, you may want to appeal. An appeal in a criminal case is not a new trial; it is a review of the evidence presented at trial and of the law applied to the case.
To begin an appeal, your Arkansas criminal defense lawyer will file a Notice of Appeal with the Clerk of Court. The Notice of Appeal merely states that you want to appeal from your conviction and that you have requested the transcript of the trial from the court reporter. The transcript must be ordered from the Court Reporter. There is a charge per page, and usually a deposit is requested.
In Arkansas, you have 30 days from the entry of the judgment in a criminal case to file a Notice of Appeal. In Federal Court, the deadline is 10 days. After the Notice of Appeal is filed, the Court Reporter will prepare the transcript of the trial and provide it to the Court Clerk. The Court Clerk then finishes preparing the record and notifies the attorney that it is ready. This record must be filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court or Arkansas Court of Appeals within 90 days of the filing of the Notice of Appeal, unless an extension is granted.
Once the record has been filed, the attorney will be given the deadlines for filing the briefs. After the briefs from both the defense and the state have been filed, the matter will be submitted to the court for its decision. It would not be unusual for an appeal of a criminal case to take over one year from the filing of your Notice of Appeal until a decision is made.
The Arkansas Supreme Court or Arkansas Court of Appeals can do one of three things in a criminal appeal: the case will be affirmed, meaning that there was no serious error and the actions of the trial court were proper; the case will be reversed and dismissed, meaning that there was serious error and that due to the actions of the trial court the case cannot be retried; or finally the case may be reversed and remanded, meaning that there was serious error and that due to the actions of the trial court, the case must be tried again.
The issues raised in an appeal of a criminal case may include sufficiency of the evidence, which is an argument that there was not enough evidence presented at trial to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In deciding this issue, the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals do not decide who is telling the truth; only the judge or jury can do that. Rather, the court reviews the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the State of Arkansas to determine whether the judge or jury could have reached the conclusion it did. The other grounds for appeal in a criminal case are based on the court denying a motion filed by your attorney or the court overruling an objection that was made by your attorney at trial.
You can look at decisions in criminal cases made by the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals by visiting http://courts.state.ar.us/.
At nearly every stage of a criminal prosecution, it is important to consult with or be represented by an experienced criminal attorney in Arkansas. The James Law Firm is the biggest criminal law firm in the state, with a full-service criminal defense team of skilled and experienced attorneys and paralegals to handle all aspects of your case. If you have been investigated by the police or charged with a crime, contact The James Law Firm to evaluate your situation.