Interviewer: If I were to get arrested for a crime, how public is my situation going to be? Will work find out? Will friends and family find out?
Brian Geno: Good question. When a person is charged with a crime, the police, themselves, take that person’s name and address and all that information down, and they put it in a statewide database, which is accessible if someone knows where to look. But those lists are not automatically published for the world to see. They’re not published, so the government or bill collectors or family and friends, or the job are not made aware. The information is just out there for law enforcement, and anyone who can access it is accessing a law enforcement database, which really is not spread around. I don’t know of anybody who is spreading around that data. However, when a person is convicted then the conviction is public and can be accessed by credit bureaus, other law enforcement and anyone who wants to investigate. These days, investigations are done by everyone from employers to college recruiters. But thinking only about the pretrial information, even though its not typically disseminated, it does not mean that no one will find out. Prosecutions create clues like being incarcerated pending bond, forcing a person to go to court, hiring counsel and other things.
If a person is charged with theft, they’re put in jail. Being in jail by itself doesn’t tip off the employer. The police wouldn’t contact the employer unless the employer is a victim – to tell them what happened. It is not illegal for a victim of a crime to contact people and let them know what happened. Typically nothing really comes out until after they’ve been convicted though.
Let’s talk about after being convicted. Sometimes the way the person is convicted, they are required to give their fingerprints for purposes of the national database called the NCIC database. It could even be transmitted to Interpol if the case was big enough, but it’s primarily for law enforcement. Someone who does a background check could see that they have a conviction somewhere. If you’re trying to get a job – a professional job or one that requires handling money or requires a high level of integrity – you can count on it. The employers can find out just by doing a background search.
Pleading Guilty & Mercy of the Court
Interviewer: What if I’ve been arrested for any particular crime and I feel guilty or believe that I’m guilty. Should I throw myself to the mercy of the court, or should I fight the charges?
Brian Geno: Definitely do not just throw yourself on the mercy of the court. The court is supposed to be an even-handed arbiter of punishment, but you can’t count on that. You can’t count on the prosecution – the government, that is – telling an unbiased story to the court. Its not their job. When the government’s story comes out, you will be misrepresented. Also, if you knew what you were doing, you could take advantage of special options that you wouldn’t know about if you were just walking into court as an uninformed citizen. A lot of times people will justify no representation because they don’t want to spend the money for a DWI counsel.. So they’ll just walk in there, and plead guilty, and they’ll get what they think is standard. You know what? It may be the same thing that you would get if you had a lawyer and you tried the case and lost, but you have no chance of winning if you walk in there and plead guilty. Also, if you go there with the intention of fighting the case by yourself, its possible you’ll do okay. However, I represent quite a few people who come to the office after they tried and failed. There would have been no chemical evidence, no video evidence, the documents will likely be incomplete and you won’t have the chance to get your evidence before the court unless you know the rules. Obviously, having a lawyer doesn’t mean you’ll win but it is very helpful because the sentences vary depending on how you play your cards. Your defenses are much more thoroughly put together and the options are laid out much better.
The same thing goes with possession of marijuana. The court has a special program. That program can result in a type of dismissed of the case. So someone may say, “Well, I don’t want to get a lawyer. I’m going to be getting the same thing if I get a lawyer or not. But they are wrong about that. That’s another common misconception that I hear sometimes: people say, “Well, I’ve heard or I’ve read on the internet that the result is the same if I get a lawyer or if I don’t, and I just don’t want these lawyers to take my money and then we get the same thing.”
They are wrong, because lawyers are experienced people who know the rules of evidence. They know the rules of procedure. They know the people involved. They know the prosecutors. They know the police, and they can get things for you that you couldn’t get otherwise, or they can protect you from trouble that you couldn’t protect yourself from. When people get advice from the internet about what to do, or they get advice from untrained, unlicensed, inexperienced people (sometimes who were in jail). , or they get advice from people who got similar charges before; that’s just dumb. You cannot count on whether they know anything. They certainly don’t have a professional interest in representing you. They parade around as if they do, and they really can harm your case. I know I am subject to the charge that I am saying this because I want to get paid and can’t get paid if someone goes there without counsel. Trust me, I know first-hand how I have had to fix peoples’ messes, because they were going to go in alone.
I remember one day a good friend of mine thought that he was just going to go in. He was confident that he was going to handle his driving on suspended charge with no help from any lawyer. He’s a guy who drove for a living as a salesman – kind of cocky – and he walked into the courtroom. I saw him as I was walking in, and he said, “Yeah, I got this.” I saw him about an hour-and-a-half later as I was leaving the courthouse, and he had this stunned look on his face, because the judge took his license away and gave him suspended jail time and a fine, and he couldn’t believe that he’d walked out of there with no license. I told him what to do and how to fix it.
I showed up with him the next time when he appealed it. This was about 30 days later, the same case, and he walked out with the case dismissed. He thought he was just going to walk in and think because, after all, he’s smart enough, and he was dead wrong, and that happens a lot. The thing is people won’t know it if they never ask. They don’t know that they could do a lot better. They’re too smart for their own good.
Interviewer: So what does it mean to be indicted?
Brian Geno: An indictment really is just an initial portion of the case where you’re informed of what your charge is. Then you are given a court date and you are asked to tell the court who you want to represent you, so it’s how they start the case. It’s not for smaller cases like traffic offenses, tickets, that sort of thing. An indictment would be for felonies.