Sunday, March 16, 2008

I've been charged with Domestic Violence Assault...

What do I do?  Do I need a lawyer?  Should I plead guilty?  What are the possible ramifications of a conviction?  These and many more questions can be answered by any competent defense attorney.  I will try and answer some of those questions for you on this blog.

Do I need an attorney?  Yes.  I know, I know... you knew I would say that.  Well, it's the truth.  A good attorney should know the prosecutor(s) handling the case, the disposition of the judge regarding harshness or leniency of sentencing, available defenses and weaknesses of the State's case.  A good defense attorney should have a dedicated private investigator, experienced in interviewing hostile witnesses and victims, to assist building a defense for you.  As a defendant, you probably have bail conditions that prevent you from contacting the victim.  Your attorney can speak with the victim... see how he/she feels about a conviction... see if he/she is amendable to having your bail conditions amended... find out if the statement he/she gave the police was coerced or accurate and whether or not his/her story has changed.  These are just a few reasons for why you need an attorney.

Should I plead guilty?  Let me answer that question with one of my own... do you care about having a criminal conviction on your record?  Do you like probation?  Do you want to go to jail?  If none of these questions bother you and you don't care, you should still speak with an attorney about your case.  You stand to gain nothing and possibly lose everything by pleading guilty at your arraignment.  Take some time to speak with an attorney and consider all of your options before rushing to what could be a very bad decision.  At the end of the day, you can still change your plea to guilty if that's what you really want to do.  If you plead guilty and have a change of heart a few weeks later, it's too late.  

What are the possible ramifications of a conviction?  If you were to plead guilty to the crime of Domestic Violence Assault, you could be sentenced up to 364 days in jail, a criminal conviction that will follow you forever and a lifetime ban from owning firearms.  For many Mainers, that means you will never hunt again if convicted of a crime of Domestic Violence.  In addition, if you were to be found in possession of a firearm years later, you could and would be charged with a federal crime and be facing stiff federal jail time that could amount to five (5) years or more in a federal prison.  

The likely penalty for a conviction for Domestic Violence Assault would be a partially or fully suspended jail sentence of 364 days and two years of probation.  Does that sound bad?  It should because in my experience as a defense attorney, most people on probation make mistakes and have their probation revoked for infractions as minor as consuming a 1/2 can of beer or forgetting to report to their probation officer a single time.  Probationers have very limited rights and are subject to random searches of their homes, cars and person at any time with no reasonable articulable suspicion.  Furthermore, if you end up on probation and the State seeks to revoke your probation and send you off to jail for the remainder of your sentence, they need only prove that you committed an offense by a preponderance of evidence.  Furthermore, the rules of evidence do not apply.  It is all too easy to be cruising along on probation and suddenly someone is yanking the carpet out from under your feet.  Take some friendly advice, call an attorney if you've been charged with a crime.  I promise you'll thank me later.

William T. Bly, Esq.
Maine OUI Lawyer