Q: I believe I am suspected of committing a crime. Should I contact an attorney?
A: If you believe you may be suspected of committing a crime, it is a good idea to contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can discuss the likelihood that you will be arrested, advise you of what steps to take in the event that you are arrested, and will be there to follow the proceedings and represent your interests. The right of those accused of committing a crime to have an attorney is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution for good reason: an attorney gives you the best chance of a fair result in any criminal proceeding.
Q: What is the difference between state and federal crimes?
A: The federal government regulates certain criminal behavior. The majority of criminal behavior, including what are known as “common law” crimes such as murder, arson, kidnapping, rape, and burglary, are regulated by the states (and the cities and counties within the states). Common federal crimes include drug trafficking, tax evasion, racketeering and organized crime, and certain forms of fraud, such as mail fraud and securities fraud. Federal crimes are prosecuted by federal attorneys in federal court, and inmates charged with federal crimes are detained in federal prison.
Q: What should I do if I have been arrested?
A: If you have been arrested you should ask to speak to an attorney immediately. Speaking with law enforcement officials before talking to your attorney is not a good idea. It is important to consult with an attorney to make sure that all of your rights are protected at all times throughout the criminal justice system.
Q: What does it mean to be indicted?
A: Most criminal prosecutions begin with a criminal complaint based on information gathered by law enforcement. However, some state prosecutions and most federal prosecutions begin with an indictment from a grand jury. A grand jury is a group of citizens selected to hear evidence of criminal investigations to determine whether there is cause to issue an indictment against an individual. The indictment begins the criminal case against the defendant.
Q: What is the difference between probation and parole?
A: Probation is a form of sentence. After being convicted of a crime or pleading guilty to a crime, an individual may not have to serve time in jail but instead can serve probation. Probation includes conditions on the behavior of the defendant, such as refraining from drugs and alcohol, reporting to a probation officer, and not committing other crimes. Parole is not a form of sentence. Instead, after a defendant has been sentenced to serve time in jail, in some circumstances the defendant may be released early on parole. Parole also has conditions, similar to probation, and requires regular reporting to a parole officer.