Frequently Asked Questions – Criminal Defense

PROCEDURE

I got a court date in the mail. What should I expect?

The first appearance in court is not the trial, but it is important. There are generally be a lot of people scheduled for the same time. So everyone needs to wait their turns. There are a few important things that happen at a first appearance:

  1. Explaining Civil Rights. The court staff will explain basic civil rights, either in person, on video, or by sharing a pamphlet.
  2. Setting bail is often the most consequential part of a first appearance. It largely depends on the level of offense. The judge may require the accused to post money for bail (this usually only happens in more serious crimes). Or the Court can order the accused to follow conditions (e.g., no drinking).

A person charged with a misdemeanor may be allowed to waive the first appearance, but only if they get a lawyer first.

What are the Rules of Evidence?

The Rules of Evidence are arguably the most important rules in criminal law. They determine what the jury can see and what arguments the parties may make. Frequently, one side wants to introduce their opponent’s prior bad acts (e.g., a prosecutor may want to tell the jury about the accused’s past crimes). When this occurs, the court carefully analyzes the situation using the Rules of Evidence.

CIVIL RIGHTS IN A CRIMINAL CASE

What is the Fourth Amendment and how does it apply to a particular case?

The Fourth Amendment prohibits police from making unreasonable searches of seizures. It is an entire area of law unto itself, and volumes of books have been written about it.

If police illegally search the accused, the evidence they find is generally not admissible against them, and they cannot use the fruit of their search to prove the crime.

CRIMES

DWI/DUI

What is the difference between DWI and DUI?

In Minnesota, they mean the exact same thing.

I was arrested for DWI, and the officer said Minnesota law requires me to take an alcohol test. Is that true?

Yes, it is true. Minnesota statutes require anyone lawfully arrested for DWI to take a breath alcohol test. In order to protect the accused, the law gives them the right to call a lawyer before taking the breath test.

FEES AND LEGAL COSTS

What if I can’t afford a lawyer?

First, call a law firm or two to get a price quote. Attorney prices may not be as high as some fear. If it turns out you cannot afford a lawyer, you should apply for a public defender. Applications are available at your local courthouse.

What kind of fee arrangement can I expect?

Private attorneys offer a few fee arrangements. Most prefer fixed fees. Here are the most common options with the pros and cons:

  • Fixed-Fee: This option sets one price for the entire case. Once the amount is paid, there is no more billing. This is the most common type of arrangement.
    • Pros: The client will not be billed for each appearance or phone call. And clients will have the confidence to go to trial without worrying how to pay for the extra time. In the long run, this option is usually the cheapest.
    • Cons: Just as no one plans to be accused of a crime, no one plans to have full legal fees just sitting in the checking account. Therefore, many people have to borrow funds from family or bankers to cover the fixed-fee payment.
  • Hourly Billing: This option bills the client for the time the attorney spends on the case. Funds are typically placed in a trust account and then removed as billing accrues.
    • Pros: This option is often the cheapest if the client pleads guilty at your first appearance.
    • Cons: Taking a case to trial on an hourly rate is very expensive.
  • Split-Fee: This option sets two fixed fees: a lower amount if the case ends before trial and a higher amount if there is a trial.
    • Pros: This option lets the client save a little money by not going to trial, but the cost difference is not as extreme as with hourly billing.
    • Cons: It doesn’t save as much money as it might seem. The reason is that, even if a case does not go to trial, the lawyer must still prepare for trial. This makes split-fee arrangements less effective that they might seem.