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7 Questions You Should Ask Your Public Defender Before Deciding on a Plea

After 16 years of real criminal courtroom work, I’ve started to realize that there is a common pattern with Defendants who get pissed off at their Public Defenders and who feel they got robbed by the system themselves.

The pattern is this – the public defender is so busy that they are unable to give a client super detailed personal attention, and the public defender makes the decision on what is best for the client on their own.

Then, the public defender subtly forces the client to go along with the plan that is good for the client, but not fully explained.

Because the Defendant does not understand what is happening, or why it is happening, they feel screwed.

My experience shows that a truly hard working public defender is going to do the right thing for the client, even if the client does not understand it. At times, they may have to get things done fast, and routine cases may get very little personal attention. Some public defenders can resolve 20, 30 cases in one morning. They are probably all done right, but they are done fast, without personal attention.

But here are a few real questions that you should ask your public defender to more fully understand what is going on in your case, even if you only get 5 minutes in the courtroom hallway. It’s not uncommon to talk to an attorney in the hallway, so dont be afraid to do it.

With these questions, if you can get good answers, you can make informed decisions in seconds:

1) What is the evidence against me?

You need to know what the evidence in court would be if you had a jury trial. Many defendants do not understand what evidence there really is, and as a result, some have a false impression of how bad things really are.

2) What is the normal sentence for the case as it is now?

In many criminal cases, the original charges are changed before the case ends. Sometimes the charges get reduced, sometimes new charges are added. You need to know what most people get if nothing changes, and you plead Guilty to everything on the complaint (called “Pleading to the ‘Sheet’”).

3) What are my chances at a trial?

You need to know what an experienced, licensed, Attorney personally thinks about whether or not you can win a trial. After all, they are there everyday, and you are not.

4) Has the prosecutor made any offers?

Usually, a prosecutor will make an offer to end a criminal case at the first court date, called the “arraignment”. This offer sometimes changes. But many cases are resolved at teh first court date based on the initial offer from the prosecutor.

5) What are my options, and what is your recommendation?

You want to know what the Attorney thinks you should do. Even if you disagree, it is valuable knowledge.

6) Why can’t you talk the prosecutor into something better?

Inspire the Public Defender to try harder! Or at the very least get a detailed description as to what the problem or obstacle maybe.

7) Is There Any Evidence I Can Help You Find or Understand?

A Defendant should not interfere with the Attorney’s decisions about what evidence is important and what is not. But the Defendant should definitely seek to start a conversation about the types of evidence that may help you.

There maybe types of helpful evidence that you know about but that your public defender does not know. For example, if there is another friend you saw at the club that night who can verify your drinking pattern before you left, your public defender will not have that info if you do not discuss it. You may have to help jump start the conversation by asking if you can help.

Asking if you can help find evidence may also prompt the Attorney to think of other items or evidence he/she may need, such as a letter from an employer that would help your request

There you have it. Free Legal Self Help info. With these few questions, you can get enough understanding on your case to make informed decisions with out wasting time.

Questions? Leave a reply below.

More Info:

The San Francisco County Public Defenders Office provides a great deal of info and resources.

Posted in Felony, Going to Court, Public Defenders | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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What to Worry About for a Pre Employment Background Check. 2014

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Here is a breakdown of the 3 main types of background checks employers use to screen applicants, and what to worry about for each. Trying to get a new job but have an old conviction? Use of Credit Reports restricted in CA, Criminal background checks reveal warrants, failure to appear cases and pending misdemeanor problems. To avoid the loss of a job opportunity, you should take care of these problems prior to losing the job. Continue reading

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Tips for How to Seal Your Own Juvenile Court Records in California

You might be surprised to find out that your juvenile court records in California are not automatically sealed when you turn 18. In many situations, unless you take action, those records may be available for viewing without your consent by employers, or other prying eyes.

Under the provisions of Section 781 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, anyone may “Petition” the Juvenile Court to “seal” the records of their juvenile cases and law enforcement contacts.

We have a Recommended self help form for an Application and Petition to Seal Juvenile Records in CA.

 

The Petition can be made after you have reached your 18th birthday or five years after your last contact with law enforcement.

You can hire an attorney to do the work for you. The bad news is that they want money to do it.


The good news is that the process is a simple, paperwork driven process that you can do yourself if you cannot afford to pay an attorney to do it for you.

You have to file a separate Petition for each county where you want records sealed. This article is focused on doing it after your 18th birthday.

WHAT IS THE “PETITION” TO SEAL JUVENILE RECORDS?

To make it simple, a Petition package generally consists of: 1) a 1 page application coversheet; and 2) a Petition which basically states that the Petitioner has stayed out of trouble and requests sealing.

Some, but not all courts have a local Petition Form for Sealing Juvenile Records that you can download and use. The Alameda County Superior Court Probation Department is a classic example of a court that has a local Alameda only form for Sealing of Juvenile Records. Check your county superior court’s web site for a local form. Look in the “local forms” or Juvenile Department sections.

If the court does not have a local form for the Petition package, you can write your own Petition.

We offer a legal self help form for an Application and Petition to Seal Juvenile Records. We designed to work in all California counties. It is editable as you see fit. It can be used as a sample to help your understanding even if you use a local form.

A written Petition generally consists of:

1) a Notice / Statement that the petitioner wants sealing of records under Welfare & institution code 781;

2) a list of facts stating that the Petitioner has stayed out of trouble;

3) a statement that the Petitioner is no longer within the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court;

4) a list of all court departments the Petitioner had cases in;

5) a list of all law enforcement agencies in the county that the Petitioner had contact with; and

6) signature and statement under penalty of perjury that the entire Petition is true and correct.

If you want to see how to put it together, get our Self Help Petition to Seal Juvenile records, which I wrote for general use in all CA counties, or Review the Alameda County local form for a Petition to Seal.

Once completed, the Petition need to go to 2 places for each county: 1) the Probation Department for the County, Attention to the Record Sealing Clerk; and 2) the Juvenile Division Superior Court Clerk’s Office.

It is the court clerk that sets the hearing and court dates. It is the probation department that responds to your petition in court. It is best to take the Petition and file it in both places in person. But it can be done by mail.

BEFORE FILING THE PETITION CALL PROBATION DEPARTMENT TO DETERMINE FEES

The processing and filing fee for the Petition will vary from county to county. Some Counties will have one fee, some counties will have 3 fees. Alameda County for example, charges a Petition Application fee of $150, and an extra $50 if you want to seal your traffic court records at the same time. We have seen other counties who dont charge the $50 traffic court sealing fee, because they claim you cant seal traffic court records.

Incidentally, if you run into one of those counties where they claim that traffic court records cannot be sealed – my opinion is that they are plain wrong. If you have to, show them a copy of WI Code 781 and/or a copy of the Alameda County Petition that actually charges extra for traffic court sealing.

Ok. Sorry about the rant. Back to the article.

You have to call the Probation Department in advance to determine: 1) application fee; 2) is there a separate fee for traffic court records (like there is in Alameda?); 3) Probation Department’s number for your case(s); 4) date the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over you ended (date of end of probation usually).

FILE THE PETITION WITH THE COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT, JUVENILE DIVISION COURT CLERK

Take your Petition to the court clerk in person and ask the court clerk to file it. Going in person is best. Take 2 copies for the Court Clerk (1 for filing; 1 for you to take home with a “file” stamp on it).

FILE THE PETITION WITH PROBATION DEPARTMENT

Filing in person is best. Take 2 copies. Get proof you filed with the probation department. If you mail it, make sure you send the correct application fee(s).

THE COURT MAY SET A HEARING ON A PETITION TO SEAL RECORDS

Once a Petition to Seal Juvenile Records is filed, the court may set a hearing date to review the evidence provided by you and the probation department and District Attorney. The judge may also set a hearing to interview you.

You may “waive”, or give up the right to a hearing on the matter if the judge does not require one. If you wish to waive a hearing, you can say so in the Petition. You can state that you are willing to “Waive a Hearing”, and allow the court to rule on the paperwork. If you do that, the court may not set a hearing at all.

If the court sets a court hearing, put it on your calendar and go in person, on time.

After the court reviews all of the information in the Petition and any presented at the hearing, the judge will make a ruling on the Petition.

If the court denies your Petition, you can reapply at a later date. Usually when a Petition is denied, it is because the Probation Department or DA has presented evidence that the Petitioner is still involved in the behavior that lead to the court cases to begin with.

The court may also deny a petition if the Juvenile records involved certain serious crimes that we will not list here, but crimes such as carjacking will jack up the chances of getting the petition granted. Look up the exceptions to sealing juvenile records if you have to in the statute.

If you are currently being sued in a civil court for damages related to any of the juvenile incidents, (like being sued by the driver you hit in small claims or big claims court), you are disqualified.

If you are not sure if your Juvenile records qualify for sealing, file the Petition anyway and see what the judge says. There is no penalty for filing and getting denied.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE PETITION IS GRANTED:

Most Petitions to Seal Juvenile Records are granted. Once granted, the court will issue a Court Order to seal your records. That order will then be sent by the court clerk to all courts and law enforcement agencies you list on the Petition as persons who have possession or access to your records.

Because of this, it is important that you list all law enforcement agencies (such as the city police, sheriffs and the university police?) and all court divisions (such as traffic, juvenile, family division, etc) on the Petition. You have to tell the court who should get the order, and you have to make it easy for them.

You should get and keep safe a copy of the court’s order to seal records once it is issued. Once you have that, you can truthfully state that you have no prior juvenile criminal record at all (in that county).

Questions? Leave a Comment. We try to answer all the good ones.

If you purchase our self help form for an Application and Petition to Seal Juvenile Records, we try to answer all legit questions about how to use it. It comes with EZ instructions in WORD format. Buy it. Close the book on old trouble.

Questions? Leave a Comment.



Posted in Alameda County, Background Checks, California Legal Help, Criminal Records, Going to Court, Juvenile, Traffic Court Forms | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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