A youngish lawyer in court today asked me about the blog: "What’s going on with that podcast?"

You may recall that I became engrossed in Serial, the investigative report turned podcast by All Things Considered. I have not been able to finish my review of the lessons in law apparent from that series. Work simply keeps me moving away from


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 Attorney Will Young, an associate at Peterson Lawyers writes todays post on misdemeanor cases.

So, you have been charged with a misdemeanor. You are probably feeling overwhelmed, nervous, and at least a little bit confused about the process ahead of you.

What Is A Misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is defined as any “lesser criminal act.” Misdemeanors are punished less severely than a felony, generally including any crime punishable with jail time for one year or less (with some exceptions). This includes: petty theft, simple assault, disturbing the peace, trespass, vandalism, reckless driving, DUI (first or second offense), and many others.

Just because you charged with a misdemeanor does not mean you should go to court without a lawyer. A misdemeanor conviction can have serous consequences for your life, now and in the future.

Do I Need An Attorney?

Even in small cases you may need a lawyer. Your case matters and you should get the best legal advice you can. Even a simple DUI can have a huge impact on your life; you need an attorney that cares about you and your future.

If you are debating whether or not to hire an attorney I would suggest you take the time to carefully consider a couple of things:

1.     The Process

A criminal case is a winding, confusing process filled with red tape and potential pitfalls. Your case may involve motions, court orders, hearings, pleas, or even a jury trial. In order to navigate this process it is important to have a guide. An attorney will be able to explain what is happening, as well as take necessary action on your behalf.

Even if all you want to do is plead guilty, an attorney will help negotiate a punishment that is agreeable to both you and the state. Having an attorney in your corner can make all the difference in the severity of any punishment you receive.

2.     The Consequences

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, the penalties can have a substantial impact on your life. Direct penalties for a misdemeanor can include: jail time, probation, fines and court cost, certain license suspensions or revocations (drivers license, hunting license, etc.), alcohol/drug counseling, expensive rehabilitation classes, and more. Unfortunately, many of these penalties are time consuming and cost significant amounts of money. For example – if you are convicted of domestic battery, you may have to spend 52 weeks in a specialized court, that requires participation in counseling and treatment. All that costs money! A fine in a misdemeanor case can be $1000 or more. Small case? Not if you have a big fine, mandatory classes and the loss of a privilege (like a hunting license).

There are also many indirect penalties associated with a misdemeanor conviction. The conviction will be reported to a criminal database that is accessible to the public. This means that anyone who performs a background check on you, including potential employers, leasing agents, and school admissions administrators, will know about your conviction. This can have a significant impact on your present and future employment opportunities, educational opportunities, federal student loans, immigration status, standing in the community, and relationships with family and friends.

3.     Going To Trial: It May Be Worth The Risk

Often in misdemeanor cases, the difference between the prosecutor’s settlement offer and the penalty a defendant would receive if convicted at trial is small. The only difference may be in the amount of a fine or the number of community service days. Because of this it may be worth the risk to take the case to trial.

While going to trial is just one of many avenues you can choose in a misdemeanor case, it may be the right choice for you. Many people are bullied into taking plea deals because they have an unrealistic expectation as to what penalties would be if they lost their case at trial. Prosecutors often scare people by reciting the maximum penalty available under the law. An attorney can use their experience with cases similar to yours to provide you with a realistic approximation of what the penalties would likely be if you were convicted at trial. This information will give you a better idea of what you would actually be risking if you went to trial. In the end, trial may be worth the risk.

4.     It May Not Be As Expensive As You Think

The number one reason criminal defendants do not hire an attorney is their mistaken belief that they cannot afford one.

Defending a misdemeanor charge does not involve as many hearings, as much evidence, or, quite simply, as much time as defending a felony charge. This means that hiring an attorney could cost you considerably less in a misdemeanor case than it would in a felony case.

Don’t be afraid to call our office, discuss the case, and ask us how much it would cost for you to be represented by Peterson Lawyers. These are common conversations that we have every day. We will happily discuss potential costs of representation and explain how we came to that number. 

 


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 The news tonight declares that Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel has won a new trial because his criminal defense lawyer did not do enough to provide an effective defense. Robert F. Kennedy was his uncle. Mr. Skakel was convicted of the murder of Martha Moxley in 1975. She was beaten to death with a golf club after she and friends attended


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 So I took a little break from blogging about criminal defense, DUI defense, civil trials and matters of wrongful death. And then things just started "popping up." A new case or twelve. A kid in jail who just could not get it together. A former Marine facing life changing decisions. The mentally ill – fearing life and death as they


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 It happened a couple weeks ago in Canyon County. Our client faced felony charges for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and a misdemeanor malicious injury to property count. The case involved an argument between ex-spouses that ended with one spouse refusing to leave the other’s property. The "trespassing" spouse acknowledged she had been repeatedly asked to leave but she would not. Finally my client went upstairs and brought a handgun to the kitchen. She still did not leave. She had taken his cell phone so he could not call for help and he had a broken leg. Finally, he went next door and got help. 

The case is really about a claim that my client pointed a gun at his ex and said he was going to kill her. That story had changed from when she told the police officers that he had said "nothing" while pointing the gun at her, to "you’re gonna’ die…." Good cross-examination using the prior "nothing" statement showed the inconsistency and the jury understood the facts were not as she portrayed. 

The property that was alleged to have been injured was my client’s keys. So the essence of that charge was that he injured his own property. 

Not Guilty.

Those are the nicest words at trial. Still, a lot of time and effort was required to get there. Fortunately our client could hang in there. 

Here is a lesson I learned during the trial – do not go gently into that arena. Be nice and tell your story, but if you have to get a little tough with the complaining witness, be ready to do so. I don’t mean badger the witness for that never gets results, but be ready to stand your ground.

And tell your story. Our client’s story was pretty simple – she absolutely would not leave and she had taken his phone to prevent him from calling the police.

No time to rest on that little laurel, but happy to report the victory.

 


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Years ago I was getting ready for a monster trial – pitting the ultimate power of the United States against a little guy who held out in the face of an all out attack on his home. People died. Protestors gathered. Television cameras rolled and major magazines wrote headlines in anticipation of an almost certain end. Tanks and helicopters ferried officers  and snipers about until the thing finally ended. 

As the time for trial neared – nearly nine months after the siege – the question of whether we could settle the case arose. The Sage – a burley mountain man of a lawyer who was our leader – looked me square in the eyes and said it best: 

"We only go to trial if we have to. If we can settle any case and walk away with our heads up, that’s what we do."

To win your case at trial you have to know if it can be won. Then again – what is winning?

If you are charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (pointing a gun at someone, a felony) and the government offers to accept a plea to simple assault (a misdemeanor), should you go to trial? I suppose it depends on your tolerance for the pain of a possible felony conviction. Sometimes you know that what you did went too far, and you can swallow a little crow and pay a small price to avoid the possibility of a felony conviction. Sometimes you can’t. And sometimes the government makes that decision for you – they refuse to negotiate and settle. 

Then you try your case.

Here’s the starting point: is there an alternative to trial? 

Last summer we prepared for a wrongful death trial in Wyoming. Our clients had lost their son while he was skiing at a well-known ski resort. This was the second such case we had handled against that resort in the past five years or so. In each case, the lawyers were the same, the decision-makers were the same, even the experts were the same. Two lives lost. Families destroyed. The ski industry almost never settles until you are almost at trial. They spend money defending their industry, even in the face of an unnecessary death. 

The case settled just a few weeks before the trial was to start. Why? Because each side understood the risk of going to trial. We all knew that juries are impossible to predict, regardless of how many mock trials or focus groups are done. And we did not have to try the case to win.

Our clients had already lost their son. They wanted a resolution that mostly included an acknowledgement of their loss and the defendants’ partial responsibility. A mediated settlement achieved that solution. 

If you have a case – civil or criminal – and a trial is your only way out, by all means, go and fight and do everything you can to "win." But after 31 years in the courts, I can tall you the Sage is right. If there is another solution, explore that option first. 

Think you have a civil case? Wrongful death? Personal injury? Wrongful discharge? Or a criminal matter? Maybe we can help you win – whether you go to court or not.

 


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 As any experienced Idaho criminal defense lawyer will tell you, the vast majority of cases are resolved with a plea bargain long before they ever reach a courtroom. Plea bargains are important to prosecutors because they help efficiently clear dockets and allow them to prosecute more cases. They can also be beneficial to defendants by allowing them to serve


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I watched a young criminal defense lawyer struggle with objections the other day so I thought I would review the process we use to object. It always looks so cool on TV – the lawyer stands and announces "OBJECTION, YOUR HONOR, he can’t testify to that!" You expect the Judge to immediately stop the trial, chastise the lawyer and affirm the objecting party. In real life trials it seldom looks so clean. We stumble and stutter and spew out "objection" just loud enough to be heard, but without the conviction that we know why we are objecting. Here are four basic rules I learned as a young JAG that might help you as you stand and deliver:

First – say the word.  "Objection." Say it with conviction so that you can accomplish the real reason you are up in the first place – say it like you mean it so the witness will stop talking!

Second – give a legal basis for the objection. Not a treatise, just a rule will do: "Objection, hearsay."

Third – if you win the objection then you probably want something. How should the court fix whatever problem caused you to get out of your chair? Ask for a remedy. Ask the court to strike the testimony given before the objection, or to cure the problem.

Fourth – if you lost the battle, you many need to make a record by an offer of proof. Not on every little objection, but sometimes you need to protect that record for an appeal.

So there are the rules, courtesy of the United States Army JAG school, as best I recall.  Hope they help you do it better if you do it at all.  And that might just be the bigger question:  When should you object? Let’s save that for another day.

Off to court …

 


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