What To Do If You Are Accused of a Crime

by Scott Grabel

Some people may one day face criminal accusations. Regardless of the merit of these accusations, it is important to know what to do should you be accused, so that you have the best chance of receiving your due rights and a fair outcome. There are some basic things that all accused persons should know about being accused and specific steps to take when facing criminal charges.

Know Your Basic Rights

The U.S. Constitution recognizes that all citizens have a right to a trial before a jury of their peers. Defendants may in certain cases wave their right to a trial by jury and either settle with the plaintiff or go before a judge directly, but the basic right still exists. Furthermore, one of the rights given to U.S. citizens is that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Defendants are not required to prove their innocence. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove any guilt of the accused. The standard for proving guilt is "beyond a reasonable doubt." Prosecutors must present a strong case that leaves no room for any other reasonable conclusion than that the defendant is guilty. This helps protect the rights of the accused, and it is one of the most important features of the legal system. This also means that if you are accused you need not become paralyzed by panic. The burden of proof is not on you to prove your innocence; remembering that may help you think clearly as the case proceeds.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

There is an old saying that tells us "he who represents himself has a fool for a client." In the U.S. justice system, you do not have to be a professional attorney to represent yourself, nor are you required to hire one. You can make the defense in court on your own. However, unless you have substantial legal training, this is not usually a good route to pursue. Professional lawyers understand the intricacies of law and the court system, and they are best able to navigate a criminal case in a way that is most beneficial for the defendant. A criminal defense attorney can give you his estimation of your odds of success, help you work out a deal with the prosecution, and work for your acquittal, among other services. You should also know that if you cannot afford an attorney, the state will provide/appoint one for you. If one thinks they may forego the assistance of legal representation, at the very least, it is suggested that one seeks advice from legal counsel before making their final decision

What to Expect from Trial Proceedings

A criminal accusation is not in itself enough to put you on trial for a crime. Instead, the prosecutor must first present evidence to a grand jury, which then decides whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. If the grand jury does not find that there is enough evidence to issue an indictment, or a formal charge of the offense, the trial will not follow. In many cases, defendants may settle with the prosecutor before the grand jury is convened. Following the indictment, there is an arraignment wherein the judge informs the accused of the criminal accusation, presents options for criminal defense, and allows the accused to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest (the defendant will not fight the charges, though he is not admitting guilt). Those who plead not guilty then proceed to a jury trial.

During the trial, defendants may choose to settle with prosecutors, or the trial may go all the way to the end with a conviction, an acquittal, or a mistrial. A mistrial ends the trial early because of various reasons, voiding it from the record and prompting a retrial. Should you be convicted, there may the possibility of appealing the ruling to a higher court and having the verdict altered or overturned entirely. A good lawyer can help you with this and also assist you in getting the most favorable prison terms if you happen to be convicted.