Milwaukee Criminal Defense FAQs
Answers to questions that the Milwaukee criminal defense lawyers of Hart Powell, S.C. commonly receive. If your question is not answered here or if you would like more information, contact us at (414) 271-9595.
- Are police required to tell me why I am being arrested?
- Can the police legally search my house without a warrant?
- Do I have to testify in court?
- If I plan on pleading guilty do I still need an attorney to represent me?
- If I’m suspected of driving under the influence, can I refuse to take a breathalyzer test?
- If the police don’t read me my rights, does that mean my charges are dismissed?
- Is it okay to talk to my family and friends about my criminal charges?
- What does it mean to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt?”
- What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?
- What should I do if I’m arrested?
- What should I wear to court?
- Why should I hire a lawyer when I can have a public defender at no cost?
Are police required to tell me why I am being arrested?
If you are being arrested, the police are not required to inform you immediately what your charges are, as they may not be completely certain themselves what they are. While they are not obligated to tell you at the time of the arrest, police will generally give you some idea of what is going on. However, you are guaranteed the right to be informed of your charges and will typically be notified within no more than 72 hours after your arrest by a judge.
Can the police legally search my house without a warrant?
Police officers need a warrant to search your home; however, there are a few exceptions that might allow a search to take place without a warrant.
- If the police see evidence of another crime while they are at your home for a different reason, they are allowed to seize any evidence that is visible.
- If the owner of the property allows the police to search the home, a warrant is not needed.
- If your arrest takes place inside of your home, the police are allowed to search you for weapons and search your home for any additional evidence of your crime.
- If the police believe that your actions may endanger the public or lead to the loss of evidence, they have the right to search your home.
Do I have to testify in court?
No, you are not required to testify in court, but it is your right to do so. Speaking with an attorney will help you decide whether or not testifying is appropriate and helpful to your defense.
If I plan on pleading guilty do I still need an attorney to represent me?
Yes, absolutely. Although you may wish to plead guilty to the charges brought against you, the assistance of a lawyer could mean the difference between spending a year in jail and only serving several weeks of community service. There is a wide range of punishments and penalties for various crimes and a knowledgeable attorney has the experience and knowledge to make sure that your punishment is minimized.
If I’m suspected of driving under the influence, can I refuse to take a breathalyzer test?
Yes. You have the right to refuse to take a breathalyzer test, but you should know that this decision may result in an immediate thirty day suspension of your license, as well as an additional one year suspension. Police officers are required to make you aware of your rights before conducting the breathalyzer test. The breathalyzer machine must be regulated and maintained in order to take accurate readings. Any error in the administration of the test can be used in your defense and faulty breathalyzer results can lead to the dismissal of your charge.
If the police don’t read me my rights, does that mean my charges are dismissed?
Not in most cases. This is a common misconception. If the police do not read you your rights it may only mean that the evidence gathered during an initial interrogation will not be able to be used as evidence against you. If a police officer did not read you your rights when you were arrested, contact an attorney to discover the full implications of the police officer’s error.
Is it okay to talk to my family and friends about my criminal charges?
It is not advised to discuss any of your criminal charges with family or friends. Your attorney is really the only person that you should be speaking with about such important legal matters. Anything that you say or even write about the charges brought against you can be used against you in a court of law. From the moment you’re arrested, everything that you say from that point on can be used as evidence against you.
What does it mean to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt?”
When a person is being tried for a crime, they are innocent until the prosecution proves they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the defendant is innocent until the prosecution has demonstrated to the judge that there is no way, within reason, that someone other than the defendant committed the crime at hand.
Because criminal proceedings have such high stakes for the accused person, the level of proof required typically matches the severity of the proposed crime. Any evidence that gives a juror a sense of doubt is supposed to go in favor of the defendant. As such, it can be a good defensive strategy to reasonably cast doubt on the prosecution’s case, including questioning the reliability of witnesses and evidence.
What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?
A felony charge is considered much more serious than a misdemeanor charge. A misdemeanor may result in a prison term of up to one year and include various fines. Although misdemeanors are much less serious than felonies, they will be placed on your criminal record. Common examples of misdemeanor crimes include: disorderly conduct, vandalism, petty theft, prostitution, and public intoxication. A felony charge usually results in a jail term of over one year and includes hefty fines. Felonies, like misdemeanors, are placed on your criminal record. Common examples of felony crimes include: treason, rape, murder, robbery, and kidnapping.
What should I do if I’m arrested?
If you are arrested, is in your best interest to comply with the police officer’s orders, but utilize your right to remain silent. Resisting arrest will only complicate the matter and any violent act against a police officer will result in a felony charge. You do not have to answer any of the police officer’s questions and, although it may be tempting, you should avoid making any statements in your defense until you have spoken with an attorney. Anything that you say can be used against you in trial. Making statements without the guidance of an attorney will only help the prosecution to build a case against you.
What should I wear to court?
When you have to go to court for a hearing or a court date, you need to make sure that you dress appropriately not only to show that you are serious about your situation but also to show that you respect the judge and other court officials. Many people are unaware of how important their appearance is inside the courtroom and because of this, they hurt their chances of being respected by the judge and/or jury. By following a few simple tips, however, you can make sure you are dressed appropriately for your court date.
You can make sure you are dressed appropriately for your court date by adhering to the following:
- Before putting on anything, take a shower, shave, brush your teeth, and comb your hair.
- If you can, men should wear a dark-colored suit and tie. If you don’t have a suit, slacks, shirt, and a tie will work.
- Women should wear either a dark-colored pant suit or a conservative dress that isn’t too revealing.
- Don’t wear anything flashy that draws attention to your outfit.
- Take out unconventional piercings and cover tattoos if possible. This can greatly improve your image in a conservative court room.
Why should I hire a lawyer when I can have a public defender at no cost?
When you are facing legal trouble, you have the right to retain legal representation. However, not all lawyers are created equal. While hiring a private lawyer may cost money that a public defender does not, there are a number of benefits that enlisting the support of a private attorney brings. Often, public defenders are overworked and burdened with many other cases, causing them to have less time to focus on you and your specific needs. Typically, a private firm will have the resources necessary to help you with all aspects of your case and will be more readily able to help you than a busy public defense lawyer.