Frequently Asked Questions
Facing criminal charges can be a daunting experience, and we know that you likely have many questions. At the Law Offices of Richard A. Portale, P.C., we’ve worked with clients from all walks of life, providing effective defense strategies to help them avoid tough legal consequences and get their lives back on track. Our former experience on the prosecution side of court gives us a unique perspective in every criminal defense case, and we would be glad to answer any questions you may have regarding your case and its proceedings. We have assembled a list of frequently asked questions to better assist you.
If your question isn’t currently listed, feel free to check back as they are updated frequently. However, if you feel more comfortable speaking with a lawyer, do not hesitate to call the Law Offices of Richard A. Portale, P.C., at (914) 772-3166.
What questions should I ask my potential attorney?
When you are seeking a defense representative for a criminal charge, it is critical that you feel confident that your attorney will act with your best interests in mind. Initial questions that could help you determine how comfortable you feel trusting an attorney include:
- Have you won cases like mine before?
- What is your plan if we won’t get the initial result we want in court?
- On a typical day, how easily are you able to be reached?
These questions will allow you to get a basic idea of how your lawyer operates, and whether he or she will work well with your life and your specific case. Furthermore, more specific questions can arise from these questions which may allow you to delve deeper and determine if this attorney is right for you.
What are common defense strategies?
The key to an effective defense strategy is giving the judge and the jury cause for reasonable doubt. If the defense can clarify or redefine a person’s intent, provide an alibi, reveal a flaw in the court proceedings, or find evidence that points to someone else, doubt has already been created. In order for a defendant to be found guilty, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant executed the crime. To better understand the defense that is best for you, it would be beneficial to speak directly to a criminal defense attorney about your case.
Can a conviction ever be removed from my criminal records?
A criminal record can bring devastating and seemingly permanent consequences to a person’s life. Unfortunately, expungement is not an available option in New York. However, your record can be successfully sealed in Westchester. This means that during routine employment background checks and loan or housing applications, your criminal history could be legally concealed. Although complicated, an experienced defense attorney can assist you in filing for record sealing so you can truly experience a fresh start. You must petition the state to seal records involving your case and arrest details, and the review process may take months. Speak further with a defense attorney about your chances of being granted a sealed record.
How is probable cause determined?
Before police officers may ever legally search a person’s belongings or make an arrest, they must first have good reason to do so. This “good reason” is what is known as probable cause. So, for instance, if a police officer smells marijuana on an individual, he or she will have probable cause to legally search that person’s possessions. However, should a police officer ever search a person’s possessions or make an arrest without probable cause, any evidence obtained would be considered inadmissible in court since it would have been obtained illegally.
Am I legally obligated to allow a police officer into my home?
Occasionally, police officers will attempt to enter and search the premises of criminal suspects in hopes of recovering evidence that may later be used against that suspect. However, it is critical that you remember that your home and belongings are under the protection of the Fourth Amendment, which protects you from any unlawful search and seizure. With that in mind, you are under absolutely no legal obligation to permit a police officer into your home unless they present you with a search warrant legally obtained from a judge.
How can an attorney help me if I am planning on pleading guilty to my charges?
Even if you are planning on pleading guilty to the charges brought against you, a criminal defense attorney could be critical to helping you mitigate the consequences you might face. To do so, our legal team will work with you to build a legal strategy to help you reduce the charges leveled against you before your guilty plea. In any case, an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you of the best possible course of action given the exact circumstances of your case and, thereby, help prevent you from taking any action that you might later regret.
Why do I need a criminal defense attorney?
The consequences associated with convictions for even some of the most minor criminal offenses may impact almost every facet of your life. With that in mind, it is highly advisable that you do everything you possibly can now, while your still can, to protect your future from any of the implications a criminal record may have on your life. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know how your charges are likely to be pursued and, thereby, how best to defend against them. As such, good criminal defense will work with you to build a comprehensive legal strategy that challenges each and every aspect of your case in an effort to reduce or, ideally, altogether eliminate the charges brought against you.
What should I do if I discover that I am under investigation for a crime?
First and foremost, you should exercise your right to remain silent. If a law enforcement representative approaches you for questioning, it is critical that you never speak to that person, or anyone else associated with law enforcement, without legal representation. With that in mind, it is essential that you retain legal representation as soon as you possibly can once you discover that you are under investigation for a crime. Your lawyer will be able to inform you of your rights throughout the legal process and act as a mediator between you and any investigators.
Generally speaking, what does the criminal process look like?
Prior to any formal charges being pressed against a suspect, it is likely that a substantial investigation has already been pursued to gather evidence against that person. Once authorities feel that they have obtained sufficient evidence to do so, an arrest will be made and the suspect will be formally interrogated by law enforcement representatives. Should the charges be felony charges, the suspect will have to stand before a grand jury hearing before the case will be filed. Alternatively, if the alleged offense is a misdemeanor, that will not be necessary and the case will be immediately filed. Depending upon the perceived strength of the case brought against you, a suspect may be offered a plea bargain, assuming the charges have not already been dropped. If you and your lawyer decide to pursue a trial, a judge or jury will hear your case and come to a decision regarding you case. Should a conviction be achieved, punishment will then be determined.
At what point in the legal process should I hire a criminal defense attorney?
Under almost any circumstance, it is highly advisable that you retain legal representation as soon after you learn that you are under investigation for a crime or after you have been arrested. A criminal defense attorney can act as a mediator between yourself and any law enforcement representative. In addition to helping you protect your rights at each and every point of the legal process, a good criminal defense attorney will work with you to develop a comprehensive legal strategy that will challenge any and every aspect of your charges in an effort to have your charges dropped before they ever go to trial.
Why should I choose a private attorney instead of a public defender?
Public defenders are critical to the criminal justice system—especially since they can provide skilled legal representation to people who may not otherwise be able to afford it—but, unfortunately, they are very often carrying an excessive amount of cases any given point of time. While a public defender will certainly do everything they possibly can to help you achieve favorable results in your case, they often are not be able to give the same level of care and attention that a private attorney will be able to. It can be this closer attention to detail that makes a positive difference in a case that might otherwise be impossibly close.
If I was not read my rights after my arrest, can I still be convicted?
While the Miranda rights play a critical role in the criminal justice system—since they inform a suspect of his or her rights at each and every point of the criminal process—police officers are only legally obligated to read them to you before you are interrogated once you are in custody. As such, if you are never interrogated by police officers, it will not be necessary for them to read you the Miranda rights. However, if you were not read your Miranda rights and were still interrogated while in custody, you need to consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can to discuss your legal options.
If I am offered a plea bargain, should I accept it?
Before you ever consent to the terms of a plea bargain, you need to first consider your other legal options with an experienced criminal defense attorney. In many cases, prosecutors place you under undue pressure to accept a plea bargain as an alternative to the harsher penalties that might result from your being found guilty in a court trial. Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be in your best interest to accept the plea deal you are offered. In any case, an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to help you make an informed decision about something that is likely to affect the rest of your life.
How long will a trial take?
Depending upon the exact circumstances of your case, a trial may take anywhere between a couple of weeks to several months to complete. However, without knowing the particulars of your case it is exceedingly difficult to determine exactly how long your case will be. If you are considering whether to pursue a trial or to accept a plea deal, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney first; an attorney will be able to better help you anticipate what your trial will consist of.
When, exactly, is a person considered to be under arrest?
While it may be obvious that you are under arrest if you are presented with an arrest warrant, it may be less obvious under circumstances where a police officer performs an arrest him or herself. The easiest way to determine whether you are under arrest, then, is to calmly ask a police officer if you are free to walk away. If you are not free to leave, or if you have been placed in restraints, you are most likely under arrest. Once you are under arrest, however, it is critical that you exercise your right to remain silent after you inform the arresting officer that you wish to speak to a lawyer.