The most pressing issues facing clients charged with a criminal offence
The police have just knocked on your door and informed you that you have been charged with a criminal offence. What goes through your mind?
Here are answers to some of the most pressing questions a client might think of after being charged with a criminal offence:
- Will I go to jail? Will I lose my job? What is the worst-case scenario?
Even with minor criminal charges, people may assume the worst. A lawyer will help you to understand the seriousness of the charge and a lot of the possible outcomes. This can help to put your situation into perspective and cut back a lot of the stress and panic.
- Should I speak to the police?
People are often under the (wrong) impression that they must answer everything the police ask them, and it is natural to want to defend yourself and tell your side of the story. However, if you’re being questioned in relation to a criminal offence it is crucial you speak to a lawyer beforehand. Generally, it is best to exercise your right to silence and not to answer any police questions.
- How much is this going to cost to defend?
The reality is lawyers are expensive and you want the best possible defence when faced with a criminal charge. It is important lawyers are as upfront and accurate as possible when providing clients with an estimation of future legal fees in a matter. The bigger the case, the more plans a client will need to make for having their finances in order.
- How does the court process even work?
Many clients have no idea how the legal system works, which can make the process much more stressful. A solicitor should explain in a common sense way exactly how the court system works and help you every step of the way. If a lawyer is doing their job properly, you should understand what is happening at every stage of the process.
- Will I have to speak in court?
Many clients find the prospect of speaking in court daunting. However it is actually quite unusual for a defendant to have to give evidence in the witness box. Knowing that a lawyer will do all the talking in court can be a surprisingly comforting thought.
- Can I tell my lawyer everything?
It may feel a little frustrating, but it can be in a client’s best interest to give full instructions to the lawyer about their memory of the alleged offence only after they have seen the complete prosecution brief. In some cases, a lawyer may never take a client’s instructions. A lawyer’s first duty is not to the client but rather to avoid misleading the court. Taking full instructions can sometimes have the effect of limiting the potential defences available to a client.
- How long will this take to resolve?
The legal process can be very long and complicated. Depending on a wide range of factors, a case may take months, or even years – particularly in matters where trials and appeals take place. Managing expectations about how long the case may take can be very important in reducing stress and planning appropriately for the future.