Criminal Procedure - FindLaw Blotter

FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

Recently in Criminal Procedure Category

If you charge someone with a crime, you want to guarantee that they'll show up for trial and possible punishment. And the idea behind bail is that if a criminal defendant has a large amount of money on the line, he or she is more likely to appear. The accused (or a bail bondsman) puts up a percentage of the bail amount, and they get that money back when they appear for trial; skip town and you're on the hook for the full amount.

Which is all fine, in theory. But what if you can't afford the bail, or even the bail bondsman's percentage? Then you languish in jail until trial -- incarcerated even though you might be innocent. Critics of this system gained a new and perhaps unexpected ally last week: The U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ filed a brief in a Georgia case, claiming that bail schedules that imprison poor people for not being able to afford bail are unconstitutional, and bad public policy to boot.

You don't have to have burglarized a home to be charged with a crime relating to the burglary. Even if you were never there and don't know the thief, you can get arrested for buying or receiving stolen goods. And of course if you are charged with the actual theft, you could be in even bigger trouble.

But a charge of theft, larceny, or receipt of stolen goods doesn't necessarily mean you're guilty. Here are the best defenses to a stolen property charge:

It could have all been a misunderstanding. Or you were only defending yourself. Heck, you may not have even hit anyone else and you're still charged with assault. The charge can vary from state to state, and the circumstances that can lead to an assault charge are always unique. You can try explaining all of those circumstances to the police or a judge on your own, or you can enlist the help of a good criminal defense lawyer.

Here's why you might want to go with a lawyer:

Do I Need a Lawyer for Shoplifting?

You saw something you wanted. It was small and you were tempted, so you took it. Is that bad? Yes, especially if you got caught and are charged with petty theft. Criminal cases are always a big deal even if the charge you pick up is relatively minor.

If you got caught shoplifting and have been charged criminally, then yes, you do need a lawyer. Any criminal charge has consequences beyond the potential punishment associated with the offense, and a good defense attorney can make the state work to prove its case against you or negotiate a favorable resolution.

The right to a trial by an impartial jury of your peers is thought of as fundamental to our criminal justice system. But does it always work out that way? As it turns out, only some offenses require jury trials, and even some of those may end up in front of a judge instead. And what about verdicts -- are juries allowed to rule anything they want?

Here's everything you need to know about juries in criminal cases, from our FindLaw archives:

Can My Lawyer Turn Me In?

A lawyer can only adequately represent her client if she knows all the facts. On the other hand, a client may be wary of telling his attorney everything, for fear of it reflecting poorly on his case or that the attorney will turn around and spill the beans to prosecutors or the judge.

While there are legal protections in place to foster full communication between criminal defendants and their counsel and you should feel comfortable answering all of your attorney's questions honestly, these protections have their limitations. Here's what you need to know about attorney-client privilege in criminal cases, and when your lawyer might be required to breach it.

Federal Judge Rules Against Cell Phones as Secret Tracking Devices

A stingray, or cell site simulator, is a device that mimics the activity of a cell phone tower and provides authorities with location data. This week, a federal judge in New York ruled that such evidence requires a search warrant.

Cell phones may not be secretly turned into tracking devices, US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan ruled, finding this violates the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Reuters reports that this ruling is the first of its kind at the federal level.

Costs of Criminal Justice: Paying Legal Financial Obligations

It costs a lot to run a criminal justice system that accuses, investigates, prosecutes, and incarcerates people. Increasingly, jurisdictions are passing on the costs of the system to those caught up in it.

This is meant to help localities pay for criminal justice, but the result is that poor people especially are finding it very difficult to escape the clutches of the system, sometimes long after they have done the time for their crimes. Let's look at Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) and their impact as reported by the Atlantic.

The End of Money Bail?

Even if you've never been arrested, you've probably heard enough to know that the first thing you probably want to happen is to get bailed out. Bail is an exchange of money for a criminal defendant's freedom pending trial. The payment is designed to ensure a defendant's appearance at subsequent trial proceedings, and can either be a pre-determined amount based on the offense or vary depending on a defendant's criminal history or the circumstances of the case.

But a case coming out of Calhoun, Georgia may be calling the money bail practice into question. The city was jailing indigent defendants accused of misdemeanors and minor ordinance violations who couldn't raise enough money to pay bail, sometimes for as long as a week. After a federal judge ruled this violates a defendant's constitutional rights, the case is headed is headed for a federal circuit court of appeals, and possibly farther. Here's what that could mean for the money bail system.

The vast majority of police interactions and criminal charges are settled long before trial and never see the inside of a courtroom. Those that do, however, can be long, complicated affairs. From setting a trial date to deciding who can testify and choosing a jury, criminal trials can be confusing, but they don't need to be.

Here are seven of the biggest questions concerning criminal trials, and where to go for answers: