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I know what you're thinking: It's just a misdemeanor, right? No big deal -- I can handle this myself. But misdemeanors are crimes that can include jail time and are prone to turn into felonies if you're not careful.
So while you may not think a misdemeanor charge is serious, you may still want the help a qualified criminal defense attorney. Here's why:
Protect Your Rights
First and foremost, you have a constitutional right to have an attorney if you've been charged with any crime. (You can also have one present if you're being interrogated regarding a crime.) Your right to legal counsel has been broadly recognized, so much so that the state will provide you with an attorney if you can't afford one. But it's up to you to exercise that right -- your right to a lawyer doesn't start until you ask for one.
Additionally, criminal defense attorneys can protect your other rights. They know how to spot possible Fourth Amendment violations regarding search and seizure. They can help you invoke your right to remain silent. (You'd be shocked to learn how many unrepresented defendants confess with a little police prodding.) Just because the penalties for misdemeanors are less severe, that doesn't mean you shouldn't protect your rights in the process.
Avoid Serious Consequences
Misdemeanors can go to trial. A good attorney will be able to identify any problems with your case. If the police made any mistakes during the investigation, or if the prosecutor made a mistake in charging or at trial, a lawyer can sniff that out better than you can. And, as the old saying goes, the man who represents himself has a fool for a client. And you're no fool, are you?
At the same time, your lawyer can help you avoid trial by not just negotiating with prosecutors but also getting you the best possible plea agreement. Experienced attorneys know what prosecutors normally do, can give you the best advice regarding a deal, and can also make sure you're not taken advantage of in the process.
Finally, if you do plead guilty or you're convicted, a lawyer can help wipe your record clean. In some cases, you're allowed to expunge your criminal record to have prior convictions erased. However, the expungement process may be complicated, and the rules vary by jurisdiction, so you may need a lawyer to manage the process.
If you've been charged with a crime, even a misdemeanor, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney today.