What Are The Most Common Misconceptions People Have About Being Arrested and Charged With a Crime?

The most common misconception people have is they believe that they are exposed to a lot more time in jail or prison time than they actually are. When people appear in front of a judge in probable cause court or appear in front of a judge at their initial appearance, they’re always told what the range of punishment for their case is. People hear the maximum punishment and it freaks them out. They think, “Oh my God, I’m charged with a misdemeanor but I could get up to a year in jail for this case,” or “I’m charged with a second-degree felony, I could get 20 years.” In my first meeting with almost all of my clients, they are scared thinking about the upper end of the punishment range of whatever they’re charged with.

What I tell my clients is that even in the worst-case scenario, if you’re found guilty at the end of a trial or, as a last resort, we have to enter a guilty plea in your case, the chance that you’re ever going to get sentenced to something at the top of that punishment range is very small. You typically have to be charged with something very serious and have a lengthy criminal history to be exposed to any realistic punishment at the top of that range. For the vast majority of people, particularly those who have no criminal history, probation is a realistic option and that is many times the worst-case scenario. I always try to calm my clients down about the range of punishment that they’re facing and not get them focused on a ridiculously long possible prison sentence that doesn’t realistically apply to them

The second most common misconception people have is that their case is going to get a lot more media attention than it actually will. People think, “I work in a particular industry, is my boss going to find out about this? Do I have to tell my boss? Am I going to be on the news?” The answer to these questions is “no,” unless you’re famous or charged with something unusual or extremely serious. So many people get arrested every day, even for serious felonies, that the news media never finds out about most arrests and could not cover them all even if they were interested. The fact is, without something that makes your case unusual or interesting, you don’t need to worry about news coverage. Also, unless you work in an industry where you need security clearance or regular background checks, you can go through an entire criminal case without telling your employer that you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime. Depending on the nature of the case, it’s possible to even keep it a secret from your spouse, your family, and your friends.

Finally, I’d say the third most common misconception people have is how quickly it is going to take to resolve their case. It is not unusual for some misdemeanor cases to take a year or more to resolve or for some felony cases to take several years to resolve. This shocks people.

The fact of the matter is that there are over four million people in Harris County and, with that many people, thousands of criminal cases are filed every year. If you ever pull up the list of the pending felony cases on the District Clerk’s website, you’re going to get a document in tiny print that’s over 500 pages long. For misdemeanors, you’re going to get a document in tiny print that’s over 700 pages long. That’s a lot of cases. And we only have 16 misdemeanor courts and 22 felony courts to processes those tens of thousands of cases.

It doesn’t help matters that there are only 200 some odd prosecutors to look over these tens of thousands of cases. Even if I’m able to prove a client’s innocence conclusively with witness statements and hard evidence, it may be months before that client’s case is dismissed because the overwhelmed prosecutor handling the case is so busy that they won’t have time to evaluate the evidence I’ve given them for weeks. Sometimes a case will get delayed because the prosecutor familiar with the case will leave or get reassigned and a new prosecutor has to get up to speed. Other times, I’ll have a case that should be dismissed or that I know will be a “not guilty” verdict at trial, but I’ll be dealing with an inexperienced or unreasonable prosecutor and have to set the case for trial. And once your case is set for trial, it goes to the bottom of a long list of other cases also waiting to be tried and gets even more delayed.

Fortunately, most cases will resolve in less than a year, but I always have to tell my clients to be patient. It can be a long, hard road before you can finally move on with your life.

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