I have a preliminary hearing tomorrow. What should I do?
Never, Ever, Try to Represent Yourself
Without a strategic and effective legal argument, it will be extremely difficult to defend yourself and your rights against the charges being filed against you. If you are forced by circumstances to go to court without legal counsel, ask the court for an adjournment so that you can get an attorney.
The police are at my door right now and they want to search the house. Should I allow them inside?
Instead, demand a warrant. This requires that the police go to a judge and show probable cause that evidence of a crime is in the house, and they must be able to detail what that evidence is. If you consent to a search without a warrant, you will lose your right to challenge the search in court. Warrants can only be issued using “reliable” information. If the search is illegal and not based on credible information, you can bring a motion to suppress as evidence anything that was taken, meaning it will not be allowed at your trial.
The police are at my door right now and want to question me. Should I talk?
Do Not Succumb to Seemingly Informal Questioning
Most cases that end up being charged criminally are the result of interrogations such as this. It’s almost always a bad idea to talk to police until after you know what they’re looking for, even if you believe you’re not in trouble or that you’ve done nothing wrong.
I or a loved one was just arrested. What should I do?
Obtain a Copy of the Criminal Complaint
Find out what charge is being brought against you, and get a copy of the criminal complaint. You can get this from the court file at the clerk’s office since these are public documents. This will give you a brief summary of the charges against you and who the witnesses are.
I was just sentenced and I want to appeal. What is my next step?
Know the Process
If convicted, a defendant may appeal his conviction by filing a Motion for Post-Conviction Relief with the trial judge, or by taking a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals. The conviction will either be reversed or upheld. If the conviction is reversed, a new trial will be held unless the prosecutor decides not to proceed. If the conviction is upheld, the defendant may try to get the Supreme Court to review the case. There is no automatic right, though, to have the case heard, and the Supreme Court only accepts about 6% of all cases filed. The Court of Appeals is designed to correct errors made by the trial court, including procedural errors, while the Supreme Court focuses mainly on constitutional issues that will have a broad, state-wide impact. The Supreme Court will not review for errors made during the trial unless the errors rise to a level that fundamentally caused an unfair trial.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
In this test, the officer passes a pen in front of your face and you are asked to follow it with your eyes. If your eyes exhibit a jerkiness (nystagmus) during the passes, it indicates intoxication. However, the officer will have to admit that nystagmus can, and does, occur naturally in many people, and that stress and bright lights (which are present at most traffic stops) can bring on nystagmus.
If the officers tell you that you are under arrest, do not fight. This will only add to your problems. Simply go with them and follow their instructions. You do not want to make them upset and hurt your chances of a better outcome.
Do Not Drink Excessively and Drive
This may seem like a simple and obvious piece of advice, but it is amazing how many people think they can drive home when they are clearly intoxicated. Barring egregious police misconduct, not even the best lawyer can get you out of this bind.
Cooperate with Police
Do not act evasively. Police will generally treat you with more respect and dignity if you are nice to them. Have your driver's license ready when the officer approaches and always take a few deep breaths to relax so that you are not nervous when he greets you. Answer with one word answers when possible to avoid the illusion of slurred speech.
Quiet the Party Down
When the police knock on your door, you must quiet everyone down so that the police cannot determine how many people are there. If they feel it is a large gathering, and they suspect you of operating a tavern without a license, they may care more than if you have a few friends over.