Recently, I got a call from a mother whose college freshman son had been arrested for drug possession. I could see the expression on her face through the sound of her voice. It is the same timeless expression my parents had when I got in trouble when I was 17 years old. Growing up, I was the last of four children by nine years, so when an officer cited me for being a minor in possession of alcohol, my parents really weren’t even overly angry. In fact, they knew (or at least had an idea of) what was going to happen to me. That is no indictment of my older siblings, of course (*wink*). It’s just a fact. But even though my parents might have had prior similar experiences, they were still caught off guard by my teenage recklessness. They were still worried, as only parents can be, and desperate to know what steps to take to avoid the worst effects that being charged with a criminal offense could have on my future.
Whether you get a traffic ticket, or get spied on camera shoplifting, get into a fight, are found in possession of illegal substances, failed to appear in court, or you are arrested for any of a dozen other reasons, your life’s landscape abruptly changes the second you hear and feel handcuffs click around your wrists. The criminal justice system is a bleak, foreign, unforgiving place. You’re taking a big risk if you’re walking this mine covered road alone without a lawyer. A good lawyer is both a guide and a defender. Most of the people I talk to are looking for some guidance first.
I represent many first offenders and these are some of the most common questions I encounter weekly. Sometimes I talk to someone who has prior arrests, just not for the kind of current offense they are facing. I explain to them that the process ahead of them is basically the same. But it is highly unlikely they will be able to take advantage of any pre-trial alternative considerations to being prosecuted. Once the initial shock of the experience is over, most people are able to think rationally about the situation they’re in and are able to focus on doing what is necessary. That could be participating in a diversion program, working out a deal with the prosecutor upon a plea of guilty or nolo contendre (where appropriate), or working on preparing a solid defense.
It is ok to be nervous. It is ok to be scared. It is ok to be worried about your loved ones. It is not ok to panic. One of the most important things to remember is that you aren’t alone. If you timely seek help and the answers to your questions it may save you some lost sleep.