Q & A
Through our efforts to assist and serve clients, we have been asked thousands of questions from individuals in need of information. The Question and Answer section of our website is dedicated to both presenting answers to commonly asked questions and dispelling common misinformation.
Please search the commonly asked questions below. If you question is not listed please email us and we will assist you if we can.
This section of our website is not intended for legal advice. Statements are not intended to be a correct statement of law in your jurisdiction. This statement is intended to give you a very general understanding of what is involved in the referenced issue. Please consult an attorney to find out what laws apply in your specific jurisdiction.
ANSWER: Do not make any statements while in custody. Courts have ruled that laws imposing penalties for refusing a blood or breath test are constitutional. Hire an attorney you trust and let your attorney know about any issues that might be relevant, including conditions that influenced the arrest. If you were driving with anyone, let your attorney know whom you were with. Show up to every court date unless your attorney tells you otherwise.
ANSWER: After being charged, your first court date will likely be the arraignment day. On that day you will be formally charged and then asked to enter a plea. Once a plea of not guilty is entered, the discovery phase of the case is started, which includes any investigation on the case. This part of the case could take some time, depending on the complexity of the charge. Also, during this phase, many pre-trial motions are filed. Once discovery, investigation and pretrial motions are completed, the defense will file an answer and the case is set down for trial. At anytime during this period, negotiations may take place between the prosecutor and the defense attorney.
ANSWER: Most police records are considered discoverable material for your attorney. An attorney can use the power of the subpoena and the pre-trial discovery stages to get such information. The court file is of public record and can be obtained by anyone in the general public. The court file does not necessarily have everything that a defense attorney would want in preparation for a jury trial.
If you are not charged with a crime or are just curious about seeing your criminal record, you may be able to order a copy of your criminal record from the department of justice. Be wary of private search firms that often provide this service, the only official record is the record maintained by the State.
ANSWER: Recent trends have seen some states pass legislation that increases average prison sentences. Also, many parole boards have been reluctant to approve early releases of prisoners in hopes of reducing recidivism. However, expert findings show that there is little or no evidence that keeping prisoners locked up longer prevents them from repeating crimes.
The Public Safety Performance Project report released in 2009 (part of the Pew Charitable Trust), examined the average prison sentences in 35 states during the years 1990 to 2009. The report found that in the 11 states with the longest prison stays, the average prison time for crimes by inmates was 3.1 years to 4.3 years.
The following is a list of those 11 states examined in the report:
- Michigan (average prison stay of 3.4 years up 79% from 1990)
- Pennsylvania (average prison stay of 3.8 years up 32% from 1990)
- New York (average prison stay of 3.2 years up 2% from 1990)
- Virginia (average prison stay of 3.3 years up 91% from 1990)
- Georgia (average prison stay of 3.2 years up 75% from 1990)
- Arkansas (average prison stay of 3.2 years up 69% from 1990)
- Oregon (average prison stay of 3.2 years up 32% from 1990)
- Oklahoma (average prison stay of 3.1 years up 83% from 1990)
- West Virginia (average prison stay of 3.1 years up 51% from 1990)
- New Hampshire (average prison stay of 3.1 years up 26% from 1990)
- Hawaii (average prison stay of 3.1 years down 15% from 1990)
Hawaii was the only state out of the 11 where the average prison sentences served decreased during the examined period.
ANSWER: When charged and convicted of a criminal offense, you should look for alternative sentencing options wherever possible to avoid incarceration. Alternative sentencing can include such things as community work, work furlough, electronic monitoring, home arrest, probation, restitution, fines, or diversion into a drug or alcohol treatment program. In certain cases, where you are already serving a prison sentence, it may also be possible to get your sentence commuted to a lesser crime with a reduced prison sentence.
Some states require the judge to impose a fixed-term sentence for felony crimes, while others allow the judge to impose a minimum to maximum time of incarceration. For some crimes, sentencing may vary with some jail or prison time, community service, probation or miscellaneous types of alternative sentencing. Many states have chosen to adopt alternative sentencing to incarceration policies to help solve their overcrowded prisons and jails and their current budget deficits and resource shortages. Alternatives to prison sentences benefit offenders by giving them a more fair punishment that fits their crime.
Depending on your particular state’s law, alternative sentencing options could include:
- Community Service – Working with city or non-profit organizations.
- Electric Monitoring – Allowing you to be monitored by an electronic device like an ankle bracelet while giving you the freedom to go about your day and attend necessary functions.
- Work Furlough Programs – Offering you the chance to go to a certain work site each workday then returning to either a designated housing facility or your home.
- Weekend Jail Time – Enabling you to continue working while completing your prison sentence only on weekends in a private, city jail (Friday evening through Sunday).
- Drug/Alcohol Treatment – Attending a diversion treatment program such as drug/alcohol treatment, which may allow your sentence to be suspended or avoid conviction entirely.
Persons who are eligible for alternative sentencing programs include:
- Persons with clean records and who are not repeat offenders
- Persons who have not committed a serious felony crime
- Persons who are not considered a safety risk to the public
ANSWER: Often people wonder what it means by a commuted sentence. Having a prison sentence commuted means that the sentence is reduced to a less serious offense with reduced prison time or a reduced fine or penalty. The offender must be currently serving a federal or state prison sentence in order to qualify for a commuted sentence. A formal application must be made by the offender to the state governor for a state crime or to the President of the United States for a federal crime.
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