The first mistake that I've seen criminal defendants make is to open their big mouth. In other words, they start talking to the police and giving information that is ultimately the best evidence that the police and prosecutors can use to prosecute them and convict them of a criminal case.
So, rule number one as it relates to criminal defense is, keep your mouth shut. Don't give any statements to the police. Let your attorney do the talking for you. You have constitutional rights.
Making Statements to Police
If you've been foolish enough to give a statement to the police, I would say nine times out of ten that statement is going to be used against you, even if you think that you've given a statement that's good and helps you.
A lot of times I see the police twist a person's statement around and use what they say against them, and then I have clients telling me that they didn't say certain things and that the police lied about it, but by that time it's too late.
Insufficient Research on Criminal Defense Attorney
The second common mistake I see people make is not researching the criminal defense attorney that they're going to hire. Any attorney with some money — even some money from their parents or a friend or a loan — can get an ad on the internet, but that doesn't mean the person's a good attorney. You want to look at their background.
How long have they been handling criminal cases? What kind of a track record do they have? What results do they have? What reviews do they have? And what connections do they have to the courthouse where your case is pending? In other words, you need to hire the right attorney.
Also, you're going to want to meet that attorney face to face. In other words, you want to be able to look them eyeball to eyeball and see the type of person that's going to be negotiating for your future, your record, your rights, your freedom and your reputation.
Once you talk to the attorney, if you get a good feel for them, they've got the experience and it sound like they are familiar with the courthouse where your case is pending, then you put yourself in a pretty good position to be able to properly defend yourself.
Attempting to Handle Case on Their Own
Another thing that I see people do or they make mistakes — make the wrong moves as it relates to a criminal case is — once they hire the attorney, they don't listen to them. They think they can handle the whole case themselves and make all the moves. The problem is, they're typically the ones that got themselves in trouble in the first place.
So, if you hire a good attorney, you do the research, let the attorney work for you. Let the attorney guide you through the process and help you and use their skill and expertise in order to get you the result that you must have.
Don't Follow Through with Terms of Plea Bargain
Finally, one of the biggest mistakes I see people making is not following through with a potential resolution of their case. In other words, if you decide to take a plea bargain, you work out a deal with the prosecutors and you agree to do certain things.
Then obviously you want to make sure that you follow through and do everything right, because what that will do is, it will get the case over with as quick as possible, get you out of the criminal justice system.
It will put your attorney in a position where they may be able to get the case reduced to a lesser charge — reduced to a misdemeanor — and also to try to file a motion to get the case dismissed, because in California, once you've completed your probation, you're eligible to file a Penal Code Section 1203.4 Motion which allows you, if the Judge grants it, to get your case dismissed n you can move on with your life.
So, make sure that if you hire an attorney you listen to them. You follow their advice and if you end up taking a deal in a case, make sure that you follow through with that deal so your attorney is in a position to get your case dismissed and you can move on with your life, do damage control and get yourself out of the criminal system.