The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. We hope our readers enjoy the perspective offered. This month’s legal opinion is provided by Philip Menditto, PA.
ASK BILL: What should a believer do when he or she needs help with a criminal matter? In particular, what should I do if I or a member of my family is arrested?
P. Menditto: The first thing anyone MUST do – Christian or not – if he, she or a family member is confronted with trouble with the law is to immediately contact and engage a defense attorney.
That’s true even if you think you are innocent: the innocent person can be the most vulnerable in a criminal matter because of the tendency to let down one’s guard.
And even a Christian facing trouble for a criminal act should not assume that your faith or a clean record will help you: unlike our Savior, the criminal justice system can be unforgiving. By the same token, having your rights protected by a criminal attorney and making things right with the Lord are not mutually exclusive – they are both part and parcel of a healing process.
Sometimes, bad things happen even to the best people, and no matter your situation, a defense attorney WILL protect your rights as you work to set things right.
ASK BILL: What does a criminal defense attorney do?
P. Menditto: Exactly what the title implies: defend you and your rights in an unfamiliar, unfriendly and uncertain environment. A defense attorney is trained to help you avoid missteps that can get you into trouble (or worse trouble) and guide you into making the best decisions in dealing with law enforcement and prosecutors and to the best outcome.
A good criminal defense attorney will also often provide counsel that goes beyond legal representation. For example, I usually have a “Come to Jesus moment” in my first meeting with a child in legal trouble, support that is always appreciated by parents and usually leads to a change in behavior. Parents should seek an attorney who not only cares about their child’s defense but is willing to speak truth into his or her life.
ASK BILL: Should I ever speak to the police before my attorney gets there?
P. Menditto: Everyone by now is familiar with the “Miranda warning,” which begins with “you have the right to remain silent.” It’s a right you should generally take advantage of until your attorney arrives. The only exceptions under Florida law are:
- A police officer stopping a motor vehicle has the right to ask for a drivers license
- A police officer can ask for identification upon reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed.
Ask a questioning police officer if you are suspected of a crime. If yes, you should immediately ask for a lawyer and cease answering questions. If the answer is no, you have the right to break off questioning and move away in a non-threatening manner.
If you are taken into custody, you should not resist but also not answer questions (except your identity) until your attorney arrives. Once you have asked for a lawyer, police should stop asking questions.
ASK BILL: Do police have the right to search me before I am arrested?
P. Menditto: Only if you consent (which you should not do) or are reasonably suspected of concealing a weapon. A police officer may search your vehicle in a traffic stop if he or she reasonably believes it contains evidence of a crime.
ASK BILL: Do I need a lawyer to handle a traffic ticket?
P. Menditto: It depends on the offense and previous record. For a driving under the influence (DUI) or other criminal offense, a defense attorney is a must. An attorney may be able to plead an offense down for a driver with many tickets facing license suspension or negotiate a moving offense down to a non-moving violation and avoid points. For minor offenses, a traffic attorney can generally advise you if the cost of representation is worth fighting a ticket.
ASK BILL: Is there a future in society for a person with a criminal conviction?
P. Menditto: Yes, more than ever before. Beyond working to prove a defendant’s innocence, defense attorneys also work to minimize the impact of pleas or convictions and move clients onto the path toward rehabilitation.
That task is easier for most juvenile criminal acts, which are not visible to the general public and therefore make it easier to ensure that the child’s future isn’t permanently marred by a single foolish act.
For adults as well, views of the criminal justice system are shifting from mere deterrence and punishment to rehabilitation. Increasingly, an attorney can help an individual pursue a path combining treatment, training and education to avoid the usual high rate of repeat criminal acts and reincarceration. Faith-based rehabilitation programs are particularly effective, and the Christian can have the advantage of belonging to supportive community to help get his or her life and priorities back in order.
It’s worth adding that many, though not all, crimes are sealable or expungable, which is well worth the effort but involves tedious paperwork and could take up to a year to finalize. It’s another task that should be handled by an experienced attorney.
If you have any topics you think my be of interest to our readership, we encourage you to email us at [email protected]
William “Bill” C. Davell, Esq. is a director with Tripp Scott, PA.
For more information please contact Philip Menditto. Phillip can be contacted at p[email protected]
Read more Ask Bill at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/william-c-davell/