7 Things to Consider Before Going to Court for a Misdemeanor

Preparing for any kind of court date can be stressful, particularly when you’re facing the possibility of being a convicted of a crime. While misdemeanors obviously aren’t as bad as felonies, they’re nothing to scoff at, especially when related to crimes like DUI, sexual assault, theft, or other potentially reputation-damaging areas.

Most people have a relatively nonchalant attitude when approaching a court date related to a misdemeanor. They think to themselves, “what’s the worst that could happen, it’s just a misdemeanor.” However, you’d be surprised at the severity of some of the sentences and punishments that are doled out for misdemeanors every day in this country. With that said, here are seven things to keep in mind as your court date approaches:

1. Misdemeanors Can Leave Eyesores on Your Record

Granted, a first offender probably won’t get too much jail time in the majority of misdemeanor cases, but even if you don’t wind up doing any time, you can be sure that there will be a mark on your record for others to see. That means that any time a prospective employer, landlord, lender, or other party looks into your criminal background in the future, there will be a glaring eyesore that could discourage some of them from dealing with you. You might be okay with having a mark for jaywalking, but you’d probably wince at the idea of having misdemeanor sexual assault on your record.

2. An Initial Consultation with an Attorney is a Must

Now that you’re probably taking the prospect of being convicted of a misdemeanor more seriously, you can see why it’s imperative to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Even if you’re going to be represented by a court-appointed public defender or another lawyer of some sort, it’s still wise to consult with a third-party attorney who can give you some basic advice and guidance related to your case. Having this initial second opinion at your disposal will ensure that you’re informed enough to do your part without relying solely on the attorney that you or the courts have assigned to your case.

3. Gathering Evidence and Documentation

Every good criminal defense is based upon some sort of convincing evidence, and oftentimes this can come in the form of documentation that either proves your innocence or excuses you from typical sentencing due to your condition at the time of the crime. Such evidence may not be readily apparent, which is why it’s so important to speak with a professional, so they can help you recall and retrieve records, testimonies, and any other details that can help your case.

4. Practicing Ongoing Communication with Your Lawyer

Perhaps even more important than the initial consultation will be the way you interact with your lawyer in the days and weeks leading up to the case. In many cases, you will have very little time to speak for yourself in court, so it’s imperative that you and your attorney are on the same page, as they will be doing most of the representation for you while court is in session. Most judges prefer to keep the defendant’s verbal involvement relatively limited, dealing instead with their attorney for the sake of brevity because some defendants will rant excessively if given unlimited time to speak.

5. Probation or Community Service is Likely

Even if it’s just a first offense, it’s very likely that you’ll get some sort of probation and/or community service. Many times, the prosecutor or the district attorney will approach you with an offer to take a plea bargain, in which you’d admit your guilt and your sentencing would be based on the terms of the bargain. However, it may be wise to counter the initial offer after providing additional details and evidence supporting your case. It’s fairly common to face jail time initially but then receive a much lighter sentence that involves community service and probation. Still, misdemeanors vary widely in their severity, so there’s no one-size-fits-all statement that can accurately predict the kind of sentencing you’re up against.

6. Some Crimes “Wobble” Between Misdemeanor and Felony

Some crimes can be upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony before the case goes to trial. This usually happens when new details surrounding the case emerge and increase the perceived severity of the crime. On the other hand, it’s also possible to have certain felonies reduced to misdemeanors. When a crime could be ruled either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the outcome of the case, that is known as a “wobbler.” Fortunately, if you’re facing such a case, your attorney should notify you of this during your initial consultation with them.

7. It’s Easier to Expunge Crimes that You’re Not Convicted Of

Even if you’re found not guilty or the case gets dismissed by a judge, the record of your initial arrest will still be on your criminal record. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to have arrest records expunged if you were never convicted of the crime. Conversely, if you are convicted of the crime then having the record expunged can be a challenging and time-consuming process. Expungement is a very important topic to learn more about after the conclusion of your case, as even seemingly minor misdemeanors can damage your reputation. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a store manager, having misdemeanor theft on your record isn’t going to look good from a character standpoint, even if you only stole a candy bar five or 10 years ago.

Prepare Your Defense Early and Show Up Looking Nice

Although judges and juries are supposed to take the facts of your case as the basis for their judgment, it should go without saying that you can also be judged for your appearance. While wearing a nice suit certainly won’t save you from being convicted, it certainly weighs more in your favor than if you were to show up poorly dressed, disheveled, and covered in gang tattoos.

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