Being charged with a crime is a jarring and terrifying experience. If you find yourself out on bail with a court date, there are a few things you should know before taking on the load that a criminal charge brings. The following are five tips for you ahead of your court date and a few things to keep in mind to help you stay grounded.
- Be Thorough; Understand the Complaint
No matter how innocent you are, never write off any charges or allegations. It is important to understand what is being brought against you to understand what to expect in the upcoming proceedings.
In the event you receive charges from a complaint, read and reread it thoroughly to understand what it alleges. A complaint is a charge that sets out the facts and legal reasons that a party believes are sufficient to levy a criminal charge. It may come from an individual or, more commonly, the federal government. In the latter case, you may expect law enforcement to deliver the complaint in the form of an arrest.
Don’t panic: considering the charges, begin thinking about the case, your relationship to the defendant, and any documents or evidence that may be pertinent to the issue at hand.
- Gather Information, Documents, and Any Relevant Evidence
Once you understand the charges, the context and place yourself in relation to the allegations, you need to find and compile any relevant information related to them.
Any contracts, legal documents, receipts, tax forms, or identification forms that relate? Get them. Were you ever in contact with the other party and have proof of it (emails, letters, etc.)? Gather it up.
It is important for any proceedings you cover your bases and consider angles where you could offer a defense to an area the prosecution may attack. Your lawyer will consider this, too, but getting in the headspace of standing up for your rights never hurts.
- Know Your Hearing’s Details and Know Your Defense
The exact date of your trial will be available at different times, depending on the court. District Courts set trial dates within 60 days after the complaint’s filing, whereas Circuit Courts will send out scheduling orders within 30 days. However: District Court cases may involve lengthier pre-trial processes, such as Discovery.
In any case, be sure to keep pertinent dates in mind and communicate with your lawyer ahead of time.
If you need any accommodations, be sure to reach out to the courts ahead of time. This could either be related to a disability (including any hearing impairments or physical limitations) or requesting the services of an interpreter in case you or a witness does not speak English.
Not showing up for your court case will look very bad. First, it usually constitutes a crime: failure to appear is a misdemeanor in the state of Maryland carrying up to $500 in fines and possible imprisonment for upwards of 90 days. On top of that, the court may issue a bench warrant that may severely limit your travel options.
In any case, if you’re already facing charges, don’t skip court; it only leads to adverse effects.
Family or medical emergency? Contact the court and let them know ahead of time instead of explaining it after the fact.
While you definitely need to know your court details, also head to trial knowing your case details and defense. Your attorney will go over any pertinent information with you ahead of time, but if you have documents, make sure they’re well organized.
If you are using them as evidence and have original copies, make sure to hold onto those and hand out photocopies instead unless otherwise prompted. You should also keep your own copies of documents with notes pointing to prevalent pieces of information—making use of tabs, notecards, and highlighters.
Your lawyer will handle the distribution of documents and presentation of evidence, so no worries in those regards. Just remember to be on top of things and keep informed.
- Be Respectful and Aware in Court
It goes without saying that you should present yourself well in court. How does that look?
For one, make sure any pagers, beepers, cell phones, or anything that could blink are turned off before entering the courtroom.
Dress nicely: your best or business-like attire is preferable. In addition, do not act out in court. If a prosecutor says something about you or a witness makes a gesture, do not call them out or play into it. Stay calm and be professional. Your attorney will do the talking and fight back against the accusations.
This also goes for the witness stand; do not give short, disrespectful answers if you are called to testify. Instead, take your time and answer concisely and thoughtfully. Treat all parties—the jury, any viewers, both your lawyer and the prosecuting attorneys—with respect. Trials take time and have an emotional toll on many—keep that in mind.
- Get a Good Attorney
This is probably the most important piece of advice we could give. Any criminal accusations are serious and deserve your attention; however, it is important to recognize when going at it alone is outside your skillset and abilities.
Self-representation is a slippery slope. Experienced criminal defense lawyers know the ins-and-outs of the legal system and have the know-how to defend a case like yours: including innovative defense strategies or opportunities for plea bargains.
The money that goes into a trial is well worth it if you get a good attorney, too. Private attorneys have much more time and resources at their disposal to spend on your case. If you go with a public defender, chances are your case is one of many they’re handling on a given day or week. You will not be as informed on your lawyer’s plans for your case and won’t be able to conference as much with them when needed.
Our attorneys offer free consultations. They have decades of combined experience defending people like you across a diverse set of cases. So if you are looking for an aggressive defense and transparent legal process, contact our offices for a free initial consultation. We’re here to help you achieve the best outcomes for your future in your criminal defense.