Brief Explanation of Client Duties
Many criminal defense attorneys are quite dogmatic with their directions to clients in the event the police stop their vehicle, attempt to detain them, or visit their residence. There are many reasons for this advice. For example, over 90% of all searches are authorized by the consent of the defendant. That means the police were only allowed to search because the defendant said they could. While I do not advocate a complete refusal to speak to the police, a savvy client will know when it is time to cease conversations with police officers. This decision depends on many factors. If you are officially arrested and on your way to being booked, simply cease conversations with the police and assert your right to have an attorney present. On the other side of the spectrum, if police have a reasonable suspicion (which is defined broadly) of what an individual is doing, they may request identification. This is not considered an arrest by itself, but if you are walking and the police use their cars to block you in this case be considered an arrest. The difference between you serving jail time or not can be determined by something as seemingly trivial as when exactly you were placed under arrest. All of the details of the arrest are important to the diligent criminal defense attorney. Remember to always try and show respect for people, unless they give you no options to continue doing so. Also, never lie to the police officers, instead cease speaking.
Note that whether you are actually guilty or innocent is irrelevant as far as the above advice is concerned. The police have a job of putting holes in your story, and even if you are telling the truth you may say something that contradicts someone else who is lying and makes you look guilty. There are many other reasons why even innocent people should cease conversations with the police once arrested, despite what the officers may say. Think of it like this, whatever you say can and will be held against you, but it will absolutely not help you.
Brief Explanation of the AR Court System
The practice of criminal defense is unique in Arkansas. If you are charged with a misdemeanor without any felonies, you first go to the district court. The district court is not a typical court. For example, there is no written record.
If the prosecutor does not offer an acceptable plea in district court, you can still bring the case before the judge in district court. However, most attorneys move the case up to circuit court if an acceptable plea is not offered in district court. If you have a felony, you automatically start in circuit court. Circuit court is a typical court, and a written record of all motions and pleadings is kept. The circuit court has less traffic than district court. The cases in circuit court are typically more serious.
A circuit court holding can be appealed at the court of appeals. Typically, the agreement between the client and the attorney will specifically exclude appeals. If your case is not successful in circuit court, you will need to consider whether you can justify the cost of an appeal or, alternatively, qualify as an indigent for appeals purposes.
Seth Layton Bowman, Attorney at Law