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Answering Your Questions About Criminal Law

Criminal charges and uncertainty go hand in hand. Anyone facing a criminal charge probably has a lot of questions. This is a situation where answers must be accurate and speedy.

Attorney James Scozzari of Scozzari Law, PLLC, has years of experience providing criminal defense to clients across Grand Rapids. Below are the answers to a few of the questions his clients ask when they meet with him.

How can having a criminal record affect my life?

A criminal record will follow you long after your arrest and conviction. It will turn up on background checks, and that can complicate:

  • Getting loans
  • Finding housing
  • Applying for jobs
  • Receiving security clearance
  • Acquiring professional licenses

Essentially, a criminal record can be a mark on your personal history that will serve as a barrier for a long time.

Why is it important to hire a criminal defense attorney early in your case?

Your right to remain silent is your first and most potent tool in your defense. However, staying silent will only go so far. An attorney can take point on communicating with police and managing the charges against you. Much of the early traction in a case is made without a lawyer present, so you can make a significant positive impact on your case by getting a lawyer as soon as possible.

What is the difference between a DUI and OWI?

In a sense, driving under the influence (DUI) and operating while intoxicated (OWI) are synonyms. There are some other minor, highly technical differences between the two charges. However, the fact is that the charge in Michigan is OWI, and there are no DUIs. While often both attorneys and authorities refer to it as a DUI, it is not.

Can you refuse a breathalyzer test in Michigan?

Refusing a breathalyzer violates Michigan’s implied consent law and comes with significant penalties, including an extended license suspension.

How does criminal history impact the outcome of a case?

Your criminal history can impact the case in many ways. The prosecution can use your record to establish a pattern. In certain cases, a criminal history leads to more severe penalties.

Do first-time offenders go to jail?

Jail and prison time depend on the nature of the offense, regardless of whether it’s your first offense or not. However, generally speaking, first-time defendants of most nonviolent misdemeanor offenses will not be punished with jail time.

Why was I arrested but not yet charged?

Believe it or not, this is rather common, especially in cases involving lab-tested evidence, like drunk driving offenses. Arrests are made by the police department. Charges are made by the prosecution. In between making an arrest and pressing charges, the prosecutor will need to examine the evidence to determine if they will press charges. When this determination relies on evidence from the lab, there’s often a delay between the arrest date and formal charges.

Should I accept a plea bargain?

It’s never a good idea to accept a plea bargain before speaking with a qualified criminal defense attorney who has taken the time to review the specifics of your case. Because plea deals are typically negotiated as a bargaining chip to push your case through the system as fast as possible, prematurely accepting a plea deal when your case is strong enough to hold up at trial could hurt you more than help you. An attorney can help you make this decision.

It’s also important to note that any plea agreement presented to you will be in the best interest of the state, which may or may not translate to being in your own best interests. Remember, the prosecution is not on your side, making it wise to question any sort of plea deal they may offer you.

Finally, accepting a plea deal means you forfeit your right to an appeal. Sentence terms are not guaranteed at the time the prosecutor offers you a plea deal, which means accepting it puts you at risk of unfair sentencing, even if you think the deal is in your best interests. If you accept the deal, waive your right to trial, and are then unfairly sentenced, you might not be able to appeal the sentence.

Is it ok to use a public defender?

When facing criminal accusations of any nature, we highly recommend hiring a private attorney over accepting representation from a public defender. The reason is that public defenders are court-appointed attorneys funded by the government. This means that, unlike private law firms, a public defender’s scope of practice is limited by restricted time and resources, not to mention authority, specialization and relationships.

In Michigan, it’s not uncommon for a single public defender to be tasked with handling 100+ cases at any given time, making it nearly impossible for them to provide you with the attention you not only need but deserve. Furthermore, public defenders must request funds to cover the costs associated with basic best practices like investigations and securing expert testimonies. Without the funds to support these initiatives, a public defender will be hard-pressed to properly prepare your case for trial, and your outcome could suffer as a result.

Will my case be dismissed if the victim wants to drop charges?

Unfortunately, not necessarily. Prosecutors charge defendants based on the assumption that the defendant has committed a crime against the state of Michigan. The charge represents a violation of state law, not a violation of a person. According to this rationale, victims are considered witnesses who can be called upon to provide information and facts to the prosecutor or police department, which are then used by the prosecutor to make a charge. Whether or not the victim wishes to drop the charges will have little to no bearing on the prosecutor’s ultimate decision.

Get Your Answers From Scozzari Law, PLLC

The above answers are general information. You should not consider these answers advice, and you definitely should speak with attorney James Scozzari about your case. You see, your unique set of circumstances will change how your case goes. Learn more about what can happen by calling 616-828-0687 or sending an email.