If papers were mailed to you explaining that you have been charged with a crime, do not panic. Call a criminal law attorney as soon as you can. Find an attorney who will offer you a free consultation. Bring to that consultation all of the documents that have been sent to you regarding the charges, and anything else that might be relevant.
Generally, the kind of penalty depends on the level of the charge. If your charge is a summary offense, the penalty is normally a fine – but can sometimes include incarceration depending on the specific charge. The penalties for misdemeanors and felonies can be predicted by calculating the crime’s Offense Gravity Score, determining your own Prior Record Score. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you with these calculations.
If you are found guilty or plead guilty to a crime, this will be reflected on your record. However, some programs like ARD and PWV will result in the crime being expunged from your record after a period of time and the meeting of certain conditions. In other instances, you may be eligible to have your record expunged. An attorney can help you determine whether you are eligible for expungement and assist you with the process.
Yes. Although laws against cannabis use have become far less stringent in recent years, driving with cannabis’ active ingredient (THC) in your system continues to be against the law – and is actually punished with greater severity than are most alcohol related DUIs.
Furthermore, the procedure for testing whether a driver is “impaired” by marijuana is less forgiving than for alcohol. For cannabis, officers check for impairment by their own observations, just as with alcohol – they look for bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, the smell of the drug, an admission of use, etc. Unlike with alcohol, however, there is no breathalyzer for marijuana. Therefore, a blood test alone must be relied upon.
If the officer finds probable cause to suspect you are under the influence of marijuana (which will definitely be present if you admit to smoking marijuana), you will be made to go to a medical center to take a blood test. The blood test for cannabis reports nanograms of THC. If a single nanogram is present, this could be enough to establish your intoxication and thus your guilt. If 5 or more nanograms are present, your case will be very difficult to fight.
Unfortunately, because different people process cannabis in different ways and over different periods of time, you could test in the range for a cannabis-related DUI even if you have not consumed the drug for many days. In such a situation, it will be the defendant’s responsibility to overcome the state’s scientific evidence of intoxication. This is a difficult thing to do.
The punishment for DUI with a controlled substance (including marijuana) is equivalent to that of a DUI with the highest level of alcohol intoxication. If it is your first ever DUI, you will most likely qualify for ARD. However, if you do not, it will be very difficult for you to avoid some brief period of incarceration or house arrest.
The upside is that you can get a DUI for marijuana, that a DUI for marijuana is harsher than most alcohol-related DUIs, and the state’s burden for proving that you were intoxicated is very low.
If you smoke marijuana, the best advice is to avoid driving altogether – but particularly for several days after you have consumed it. Short of this, if you are not intoxicated from marijuana, do not tell a police officer that you “smoked yesterday,” or “smoked 9 hours ago.” This will be enough to establish probable cause for a blood draw, and the blood draw will most likely be enough to convict you of DUI – even if you swear you were not high anymore.
We certainly recommend that you retain the services of an attorney even if you intend to plead guilty. While the court system generally tries to be fair, everyone involved in your case aside from your attorney has an agenda that may conflict with your best interests. Police officers want their cases to resolve favorably, as do district attorneys. It is not their job to help you if that means undermining their own case. Judges are restricted from offering advice to either side – thus, while they will be as fair as possible, they will not go out of their way to ensure that you are receiving the best possible outcome.
Thus, you should retain an attorney even if you plan to “be cooperative.” An attorney can determine whether you should plead guilty to all charges, or ask that others be dropped in exchange. An attorney can help to mitigate your punishment, determine whether you qualify for leniency programs, and just generally attempt to reduce the damage to you. Finally, an attorney can answer the questions that will inevitably occur during the life of a criminal case.
Finally, judges and prosecuting attorneys will generally encourage you to get an attorney throughout the process. It may seem strange, but they see a defendant who retains an attorney as more cooperative and responsible than those who do not. This is so even if you openly plan to plead guilty. Judges and prosecutors know that their jobs are different from that of a defense attorney, and worry that a defendant who refuses to hire an attorney will later argue that the judge or prosecutor misled or tricked them, once they realize that they are still going to receive a harsh punishment.
The answer to this question depends on the strength of the prosecution’s case and on the wishes of the client.
If the prosecution’s case is weak and the charges are not very serious, “fighting the case” may be as simple as pointing out the case’s defects to the prosecution, and either having the case dismissed or agreeing to plead to a minor charge, like a summary offense.
If the prosecution will not acknowledge a case’s obvious weakness, then a trial will be necessary for a just outcome. Although no trial is simple or predictable, if the prosecution’s case has obvious errors, pointing these out to a judge or jury may be relatively straightforward, and thus not so costly in terms of time and money.
If the prosecution’s case is strong, more work must be done by the defense. This means gathering evidence to support the defendant’s side of the story – which could require conducting interviews, analyzing police and medical reports, and even hiring our own private investigators and experts to counter the narrative offered by the state.
This is where the wishes of the client come into play. If the charges are not very serious, it may not be worth the money to make such extensive preparations. For instance, if you are accused of possession of drug paraphernalia and are eligible for Probation Without Verdict, and the only way to effectively fight the charge would be to hire an expert that charges $5,000 for a report on whether a certain kind of pipe is actually used for marijuana, the client may wish to apply for PWV – even though the client is not actually guilty. The outcome of PWV is dismissal and expungement, which is pretty close to the consequence of acquittal, but for a few thousand dollars less.
If, however, the client is accused of possession with intent to deliver and is facing the possibility of spending several years in state prison, then the client may be more interested in spending the money necessary to build a solid defense case.
Our office offers a free consultation to discuss your case. Once we have spoken to you and have an understanding of your specific needs and circumstances, we will quote you a retainer fee in the event that you would decide to hire us.