I’ve Been Charged With A Felony. What Do I Do Now?

felonies-misdemeanorsWhat is a felony?

Felonies are crimes punishable by one year or more of incarceration either in jail or prison. A conviction of a federal felony charge is usually more serious than a state felony charge and guarantees the defendant will spend year(s) in a federal penitentiary. A felony conviction will stay with the felon’s criminal records and he/she will face serious repercussions to career choices, civil rights, and reputation. For example, in many states, a felon cannot own or possess a fire arm. Felons also do not have the right to vote in the general elections. It is very difficult to erase a felony conviction from your record, so if you are a charged with a felony, you should consult a trained criminal defense attorney right away to discuss your defenses and other options.

What is the felony process?

A felony trial is the most complex and arduous part of the criminal justice system. From arraignment to sentencing, there are many different steps in the process, each with its own procedures and pitfalls. Not many are capable of navigating this treacherous journey on their own. If you are charged with a felony, trying to represent yourself would be akin to performing open heart surgery on yourself. What you need is a trained and experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through each step in the process and make sure your rights are being protected under the Constitution.

Here’s a brief overview of the process faced by defendants charged with a felony:

  • Felony Arraignment and Pleading: At the felony arraignment, you will be given a copy of the charges brought against you. The court will review your rights and explain the charges and potential penalties you are facing. You may be provided with a public defender to represent you if you are indigent and meet the necessary qualifications. If you have a private criminal defense attorney, this is the first time he/she will be able to speak to the judge and the prosecutors. The court may ask you if you want your charges read against you, or if you want to waive a formal reading of the charges. Then you will be asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.
  • Setting Bail: Bail will be set to ensure that you show up to your next hearing. Your attorney may be able to convince the judge to release you on your own recognizance (sometimes referred to as “O.R.”) depending on the seriousness of the charges, your past criminal history and other factors. If bail was set by the lower court, your attorney can ask the court to reconsider the bail amount or release you O.R. If the court judges you as a flight risk or too dangerous to release, then you will be denied bail.
  • The Prosecution: You may have a chance to see the prosecutor for the first time at your felony arraignment. As with any criminal charge, the state must prove every element of the felony charge brought against you beyond a reasonable doubt. You may want to have to your attorney speak to the prosecutor and see if you can come to an agreement for plea bargaining.
  • Setting Your Case for Trial: The court may set future hearing dates during your arraignment and may also set a trial date. You have a right to a speedy trial, but your attorney may decide it is better to waive that right to buy more time to prepare or gather facts.

Defending felony criminal charges is complicated and depends on a careful analysis of facts and the law. An attorney familiar with the criminal justice system can make arguments on your behalf, work toward reducing your bail amount, gather facts from the prosecutor, negotiate with the prosecutor and bring motions to the court that can dramatically affect the outcome of your case. Don’t face the felony criminal charges alone, it may destroy your life.