By: Mark Diaz
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Texas Criminal Defense Questions Answered By Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer
Why hire a criminal defense attorney when I can get a court-appointed lawyer?
Not everyone is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer. In order to get a court-appointed lawyer, you have to be what they call indigent. A finding of indigency requires that you make below a certain income amount, and most courts use the federal poverty guidelines as that barrier.
So if your income is such that you are below federal poverty guidelines, then you are entitled to court-appointed counsel. You can’t just walk into court and say “I want a court-appointed attorney”, you have to fill out a financial affidavit. Then if you qualify, you’re given a court-appointed lawyer. If you can afford a criminal defense attorney, then you’re not likely going to be able to get a court-appointed defense attorney. You will find yourself in a position where you do have to hire an attorney.
If I plan on pleading guilty, do I still need an attorney?
Yes. If we were to sit down and discuss this, I would go through a whole series of questions to determine why you would predetermine that you want to plead guilty. Your lawyer is going to go through and analyze everything up to the point where you’re before the court, accused of a crime. In other words, we’re gonna do our due diligence to make sure you can even be prosecuted.
Even if it is going to be an eventual plea of guilty, you still want an attorney advocating for the best possible result. I have plenty of clients that end up pleading guilty, but then the issue becomes, what punishment can we get? We negotiate that plea bargain before you actually plead guilty. I don’t have a client plead guilty until I know what the results are going to be. We’re talking about the possibility of incarceration. When you are locked up, taken away from society, I can’t think of a greater loss.
What is the difference between a dismissal and an expungement?
A dismissal means that the charge has been dismissed. So you’ve been arrested, charged with a crime, and then at some later point, it’s dismissed for whatever reason. However, if someone does a background check on you, that arrest and charge would still show up on your record.
So that’s where an expunction comes into play. Which is a document or petition that we file to have everything about the arrest removed from your record. A dismissal just gets rid of the case. Expunction actually erases the record, and then in the future, employers won’t see it when you apply for jobs, landlords won’t see it when you apply for housing, and so on.
What type of cases does your criminal defense law firm handle?
Broadly, we hire criminal defense. As I’ve said before, I’ve tried everything in my career from prostitution to capital murder. So anything that is a criminal offense, my firm handles. There are different ways we assign different cases, Thomas may be on this particular case, Jessica on that case, and me on another case.
We discuss all our cases all the time so that we all know what’s going on. If you call up here today and want to know about your case, and I’m not available, Jessica or Thomas can take your call, look in our system, see my notes and see what’s going on. One of the big things for me is that I want my clients to know what’s going on, I want them to be able to call here and get information when they want it.
Can I change lawyers? I am not happy with the one currently representing me.
Yes. It’s actually quite a common practice. If you come here and hire us, and you already have counsel, we take care of it from that moment on. You don’t ever have to talk to the previous lawyer again. I contact him or her, tell them I’ve been retained, and I file a motion to substitute counsel, and you have a new lawyer. I cannot think of a circumstance where that would not be allowed.
I have had people call me and say that they’re going to jury trial tomorrow, and they want to hire me. In that situation, you have to ask the court first, because the court may not allow it given that the jury trial is starting the next day. In that situation, I have to go to court and say, Judge, this person wants to hire me and they’re set for trial today, would you allow that and give me some time to get up to speed on the case before we go to trial? If the judge says no, well, then I can’t come in. I can’t get ready for any trial on one night’s notice without having seen any evidence. Generally, though, you can switch lawyers. I’ve seen people change lawyers three or four times.
What is a misdemeanor? Do I need a defense attorney for a misdemeanor crime?
A misdemeanor is going to be classified by the crime or the range of punishment. The easiest example is your first DWI. First DWI is a misdemeanor, regular DWI. In other words, no accident, nothing like that. It’s a Class B misdemeanor. Yes, you need an attorney. You never want to go into a criminal courtroom without an attorney. What happens in criminal court can stay on your record for the rest of your life. People go into misdemeanor court a lot and want to represent themselves and they sign a piece of paper that basically tells them they’re waiving their rights.
In a misdemeanor theft case, you’ve been accused of shoplifting from the local Walmart, and you think it’s no big deal. You go to court, the prosecutor looks at your record and sees that you have no prior criminal history, and the prosecutor offers you “time served” and a $100 fine. As the accused, you’re sitting there thinking you can pay a $100 fine and get it over with. Well, what you’ve just done, is pled guilty to a crime of moral turpitude that will be on the record for the rest of your life. That crime of moral turpitude will prevent you from getting hired almost anywhere. So yes, even if it’s a misdemeanor, you still need a defense attorney.
If my driver’s license was suspended, what can I do to get it back?
The answer would depend upon why it was suspended. In the office, we have an account with DPS, so we would get some information from you, look up the status of your driver’s license on DPS, and determine if you’re eligible or not eligible. If you’re eligible, then you would just go down and get your license. If you’re not eligible, then we look to the reason why. Depending upon the reason why we help you take the steps to get it back. Sometimes it’s as simple as paying some administrative costs that are outstanding. Other times we have to file for an occupational license. Whatever it is, there is a road to get your driver’s license back.
What should I look for when hiring a criminal defense attorney?
I used to say that I would go interview several different criminal defense attorneys and see who I felt most comfortable with. I still feel like that, but I want to be a little bit more specific. You want to hire whoever you feel best about communicating with, who you feel understands your situation. Hears your concerns, and is willing to address your concerns. My office is across the street from the courthouse. I’m here every day. If I’m not at the courthouse, I’m here.
Oftentimes clients don’t make an appointment, they just come in, and they want to know the status of their case, it happened to me today. That’s what I’m here for. If we can’t communicate, how are we going to have a good relationship moving forward? That is something you need to take into account. I say that because people call me all the time and explain that they’re having a hard time reaching their attorney. Depending on your personal needs, what are you going to want from your attorney?
You need to go interview that person before you pay him or her any money and decide, is this the right one for me? As I said, what happens in criminal court can very well have an impact on the rest of your life. So if you’re going to pay someone money to help you make decisions that can possibly affect the rest of your life, you want to make sure you’re giving your money to the person that you feel most comfortable with. See more Texas Criminal Law Frequently Asked Questions.
If you have questions about a case you may have call Galveston criminal defense lawyer, Mark Diaz at (409) 515-6170 or use the form on our contact page for a free initial consultation.