Frequently Asked Questions About Our Criminal Defense Services

Do I really need to hire an attorney?

This is, to some extent, a personal choice for you to make. The severity of the charges, how much you understand the charges you face and the legal process, and the maximum impact a conviction might have on your life are all things we recommend you consider. While every client and every case is unique, the common reasons people choose to hire an attorney are to have someone who is able to devote more time and resources to their individual case, and who is able to provide more personal attention.  That being said, if you do not qualify for public assistance, the Judge will order you to hire a private attorney.  You retain the right to represent yourself, but this is never a recommended course of action.

What are some of the things I should look for in an attorney?

Experience and communication are, in our opinion, the two most important factors to consider in hiring a criminal attorney.  Your attorney should be experienced in handling the crimes with which you are charged, and should have extensive trial experience.  While trial is never the preferred outcome, it is sometimes unavoidable and you must be sure to hire someone who is up to the task.  Criminal cases can last for a while.  You are hiring someone not just to represent your interests, but to serve as your partner throughout the process.  You will want to find someone who can keep you well-informed through all the inevitable ups and downs.

What are some common legal terms?

Arraignment–a defendant’s appearance in court where they enter their plea to the charges they face. Most people who are arrested will be “arraigned” soon after their arrest.  This arraignment takes place in “criminal court.”  If you are charged with a misdemeanor only, you may be given the opportunity to take a plea at that time.  If you are charged with a felony and are unable to resolve the case before the prosecution secures an “indictment,” then you may face a second arraignment, at which time you are presented with the indicted charges.  The prosecutor may ask that bail or additional bail be set at that time.

Grand Jury–a group of citizens brought to court to listen to the prosecutor and determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the charge(s) to bring an individual to trial. For most cases, this body of citizens listen to cases brought by the local prosecutor every day for a month.  In addition, the standard of proof to be met in order for the grand jury to return an indictment is much lower than the standard of proof required at a criminal trial.  For these reasons, grand juries are likely to return an indictment.  As a criminal defendant, in most instances you will have the right to testify before the grand jury, but this is often not advisable for a number of reasons.

Indictment–the formal written accusation made by a grand jury that charges a specific person with a specific crime.

Plea–the defendant’s response in court to whether they are guilty or not guilty to the charges determined in the indictment.  A plea is taken under oath, and difficult to withdraw once it is entered.  Make sure to consult with an attorney before entering a plea.

Plea Bargain/Plea Deal–a negotiation between the prosecution and defense for a fair resolution of a case which must be approved by the court.  As soon as you hire an attorney, you should be working with him or her to determine what type of plea bargain, if any, you would be willing to accept.  Establishing the goals you have for your matter up front is an important step in reaching the best outcome.

Acquittal– the legal judgment, by either a judge or a jury, that the defendant is not guilty or responsible for the crimes they were accused of and charged with.

What should I expect from my attorney?

While every case requires specific counsel, there are some basic services you should expect from your attorney. At Bergstein Flynn and Knowlton PLLC, we offer a free consultation during which we will assess the charges against you, discuss possible outcomes, and available strategies to work toward resolution as soon as possible. You should expect open and honest communication, explanations of legal proceedings, and the ability to ask questions to ensure you truly understand the process you’re undergoing.

Will I have to go to trial?

We cannot offer any guarantees about the outcome of your case. We will work our hardest to provide you with the best possible outcome, but given other factors beyond our control we cannot promise your case won’t go to trial. However, there are often several intermediary steps and opportunities to resolve a matter without courtroom litigation.  It is important that your attorney identify and capitalize on these opportunities.  During the plea bargain phase of the proceeding, your attorney should advocate for the best deal possible for you and discuss your options with you when you’re making a decision to accept or decline any potential offers.

My family member/friend is currently being detained. Can my lawyer visit them?

Depending on the facility where he/she is being held, your lawyer should be able to visit him/her.  This will require some advance planning.  The attorneys at Bergstein Flynn and Knowlton PLLC are not able to conduct jailhouse visits before a retainer is signed.

How long will it take for my case to be decided on?

It could take a long time.  We know that this is a stressful time for you and your loved ones so we take an aggressive approach up front, seeking to understand the facts of the case as quickly as possible so we can fight for a satisfactory resolution.  That being said, there might be strategic or other reasons why a case lingers.  You should discuss with your attorney.

How will a criminal conviction affect my future?

It depends.  A criminal conviction can have collateral consequences affecting your employment, your ability to obtain certain licenses and your status in the country, if you are not a citizen.  In New York State, if you have not been convicted of more than one felony, you are eligible to apply for a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities.”  This, in theory, is intended to prevent employers and license providers from refusing to offer you employment or a license solely on the basis of your conviction(s) unless the nature of those convictions directly affects your responsibility.  For instance, a crime of dishonesty, like stealing, may be used by any employer as the basis for denying your employment.  You may be able to apply for this certificate on your own, but be aware that its issuance is at the discretion of the judge who sentenced you.  That is why many people choose to have an attorney assist them.  In addition, certain types of convictions trigger automatic sealing and/or are eligible to be conditionally sealed after the completion of a program.  In October, those convicted of misdemeanors and certain less serious felonies which are more than ten years old will be eligible to have their convictions conditionally sealed.  Consult with an attorney for more information!