The number one question in the mind of most clients who consult with us on criminal matters is “what could happen to me?” The possible outcomes in a criminal case are varied, and the exact same sentence on 2 different charges can mean vastly different things on a practical level. On a practical level, the non-criminal (or collateral) consequences imposed by the legislature can be as severe as any imposed by a judge. It is on that practical level that we always try to deal with our clients, so that they have a real understanding of what penalties may be facing them on a particular charge.
The criminal justice system uses many classifications when criminal penalties are imposed. Terms like “Violent Offense”, “No Parole Offense”, and “Most Serious” offense are often thrown about. I am continually surprised by how many attorneys do not have a good understanding of these classifications, of how and why they are triggered, and of how dramatic their impact can be. I have trained a large number of attorneys in understanding the classification system used in criminal matters and firmly believe that any attorney who attempts to represent someone without that knowledge is doing grave damage to their client.
One of the first options we look to when discussing practical outcomes is a diversion program. All diversion programs have something in common- they remove a case from its normal path through court and allow an accused person a chance to have their case resolved favorably IF that person fulfills certain requirements. There are numerous diversion programs available under our laws, but not all of them are available on every charge. Know which programs are available for what charges is one of the most valuable skills an experienced attorney can possess.
In cases where the outcome results in a conviction, there are many possible punishments that can be imposed. These range from fairly mild and short term to extremely harsh and extended, depending on the exact structure. A practical approach in all of these cases is to make sure that a client knows exactly what the benefits and pitfalls of any possible sentence are. It is not enough for a person to simply know that they will be placed on probation. How will it affect their daily activities? What does that mean for their ability to travel? What impact does it have on their job and family?
While avoiding a sentence involving jail or prison time is always a priority, some cases will result in exactly that. When this happens, it is crucial that a client really understand what that sentence means. Among the many practical questions that arise:
- Where will the time be served?
- What sort of programs will be available?
- What type of facilities are there?
- Will there be a chance for early release?
- When released will there be any sort of supervision?
- What is the most likely release date?
An experienced attorney should be able to answer all of these questions.