Yes. The attorney should not be surprised by anything. If you have any previous charges that will factor in the DA’s willingness to negotiate and willingness to settle, your attorney should know of all that, even if they aren’t drug charges.
What Sort of Problems Could it Create if Someone Doesn’t Inform Their Attorney of Prior Charges?
If someone comes to my office and hires me for one charge and then two weeks later, they pick up another drug charge and don’t tell me about it, it will create several issues. The most important factor is going to be the trust that we have. If I don’t know what I’m looking at and what I have to defend against, I can’t defend my client adequately. The other important fact is that many judges, before accepting any kind of plea agreement, will run a rap sheet on an individual. If they see anything new in there that’s not addressed in that plea agreement, then they won’t accept it and they’ll probably issue a warrant or something. It’s never a good thing to leave things out.
If you come into my office to hire me to represent you on one charge and you tell me that you have no prior drug offenses, no prior anything, and I go to court and I get your rap sheet from the district attorney and I see that you’ve been charged with domestic violence or another drug charge previously, then that’s going to affect my ability to represent you. If you’re telling me that you don’t have any prior convictions but then I’m seeing two or three, or however many other convictions on your rap sheet, that’s going to present an issue between us; not necessarily with the DA or the judge. It’s going to be an issue between us and how much trust between us actually exists.
Is it Ever Advisable to Plead Guilty and Expect Mercy from the Court?
You could do so. You could, if you chose to, just plead guilty and get everything over with – that’s perfectly fine. The problem that you’re going to have by doing so though, is if you don’t have anybody representing you, you’re not going to have somebody looking out for your best interest. Even if you’ve admitted everything, you may not necessarily know if your Miranda Rights were violated when you did so. You may not know if any tests were done to determine,
1) Which drug was in your system
2) The quantity of it
3) Whether those tests were done correctly
So there are going to be a variety of situations where you could just go in, plead guilty and get it over with and move on. But if you want to try to get essentially the best deal out of it, it would be better to at least consult with an attorney first before you make that decision.
What Would be the Advantage of Hiring a Private Attorney if I Qualify for a Public Defender in a Drug Case?
The main advantage is going to be the time. Most public defenders, though not all, are usually in court all day. On a light day they have anywhere from 10 to 15 maybe 20 cases to handle. You usually don’t get to speak with them outside of the courtroom, especially if you’re out of custody. Private attorneys usually limit their caseload. In my office, we take no more than 40 cases at any given moment and that depends on the complexity of the case as well. Sometimes we limit that even further. Generally the public defender may have 10, 15, 20 cases in one day in one courtroom, a light day for my office when we’re actually in court, we’ll have 1 to 2 cases.
Private attorneys can usually focus on a case a lot more; focus on you a lot more. I have better capability to sit down with you, go over the details of your case and go over defenses. I can spend an hour or two with you on a Friday afternoon or Monday morning to discuss your case and make sure you understand the ins and outs of it, whereas you may not get that chance with the public defender. You might be able to speak to them 5 minutes before your hearing is called and that’s it.
Do Drug Cases Need More Time from an Attorney to Look Into the Situation and Witnesses?
To be handled correctly, any case needs that time. I can’t provide a blanket statement that says that this kind of case won’t need this much time or this kind of case will, because a lot of it is going to depend on whether any witnesses need to be spoken to. Maybe a private investigator needs to go out to the area to photograph it to see if things are factually correct the way that they’re described in the report. Every case should be looked at on its own; every case needs to be investigated from scratch to see where the holes are because if you’re not looking at it in that light, you’re not going to find those holes. You’re not going to find what that best defense is.
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