Criminal Defense FAQs

It is always in your best interest to consult a criminal defense lawyer as early as possible if you suspect you will be facing the criminal justice system. Whether or not you believe you have been wrongfully accused, an attorney will fight for your legal and constitutional rights and monitor the proceedings for legality and fairness. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for free legal counsel.

The traditional definition of a felony is a crime that is punishable by a year or more in jail. A misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of less than one year. Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors.

If the police arrest you, immediately ask to call an attorney. Do not say anything to the police that could incriminate you. Even if you are innocent and were in no way involved in the crime for which you have been arrested, ask for an attorney and do not speak to the police without a criminal defense attorney present.

The grand jury decides whether there is sufficient evidence to indict a suspect and continue the criminal proceedings against him or her. The indictment is the formal process of charging a person with a crime. The grand jury reviews the evidence and may hear testimony in deciding whether to indict someone, but the grand jury makes no decision about guilt or innocence. All states use the grand jury system to some extent, though there may be differences in procedures and number of jurors.

The prosecutor is the attorney who represents the federal, state or local government in a case against a criminal defendant. The title of the prosecutor varies by jurisdiction, but some common titles include district attorney, county attorney, city attorney, United States attorney and state attorney. The prosecutor has the public duty to punish those committing crimes, balanced with the duty to fairly try such individuals.

Probation is a type of criminal sentence that allows a person to stay in the community rather than serve time in prison, as long as he or she complies with certain conditions, such as regularly reporting to a probation officer, refraining from alcohol and drugs and not committing further crimes. Parole is the supervised release of a prisoner from incarceration into the community before the end of his or her sentence. Conditions of parole are similar to those of probation.

Depending on the applicable federal or state laws, part of a criminal sentence may include the payment of restitution to the victim or victims for their related losses. Restitution may include compensation for property damage or loss, medical and rehabilitation expenses, lost income or funeral expenses. Part of the philosophy behind criminal restitution is to give the criminal offender a direct part in making things whole with his or her victim.

White collar crime refers generally to nonviolent financial crimes involving fraud or other dishonesty committed in business or commercial contexts. Examples include insider trading, embezzlement and tax evasion. White collar crime is sometimes described as "paper crime" or crime that is committed in white collar workplaces as opposed to jobs in blue collar industries.

A minor is prosecuted for criminal conduct in a separate juvenile court system. The philosophy of the juvenile justice system is that children should not be punished or stigmatized for criminal conduct because of their immature abilities to make proper choices and recognize right from wrong. Instead the role of the juvenile justice system is seen as rehabilitative and guiding. For particularly violent crimes, adolescents may be tried in the adult system.

Yes, if a person who is not a citizen of the United States is convicted of a crime, he or she can be deported. This includes lawful permanent residents who are lawfully living and working in the United States. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, if a non-citizen is convicted of an aggravated felony, a crime of moral turpitude or any one of a number of listed crimes in a third category (such as violations of laws relating to domestic violence, controlled substances and possessing a firearm), he or she is at risk of deportation. In addition to deportation, a conviction may adversely affect a lawful permanent resident's ability to become a United States citizen.

Personal Injury FAQs

First, you must have suffered an injury to your person or property. Second, you should consider whether your injury was someone else's fault. It is not always necessary to have a physical injury to bring a personal injury lawsuit. Some personal injury claims could be based on a variety of nonphysical losses and harms. In the case of an assault, for example, you do not need to show that a person's action caused you actual physical harm, but only that you expected some harm to come to you. You also may have a case if someone has attacked your reputation, invaded your privacy, or inflicted emotional distress upon you.

Every state has certain time limits, called "statutes of limitations," which govern the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit arising out of an automobile accident. If you miss the deadline for filing your case, you may lose your legal right to damages for your injury. Consequently, it is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as you suffer or discover an injury.

You should provide a lawyer with any documents that might be relevant to your case. Police reports, for example, contain eyewitness information and details about the conditions surrounding auto accidents, fires, and assaults. Copies of medical reports and bills from doctors and hospitals will help demonstrate the extent and nature of your injuries. Information about the insurer of the person who caused your injury is extremely helpful, as are any photographs you have of the accident scene, your property damage, and your injury. The more information you are able to give your lawyer, the easier it will be for him or her to determine if your claim will be successful. If you haven't collected any documents at the time of your first meeting, however, don't worry; your lawyer will be able to obtain them in his investigation of your claim.

It depends on whether the person died as a result of injuries from the accident or from unrelated causes. If a person injured in an accident subsequently dies because of those injuries, that person's heirs may recover money through a lawsuit known as a wrongful death action. Also, even if a person with a personal injury claim dies from unrelated causes, the personal injury claim survives in most cases and may be brought by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person's estate. 

The critical issue in many personal injury cases is just how a "reasonable person" was expected to act in the particular situation that caused the injury. A person is negligent when he or she fails to act like an "ordinary reasonable person" would have acted. The determination of whether a given person has met the "ordinary reasonable person" standard is often a matter that is resolved by a jury after presentation of evidence and argument at trial.

Yes. Some persons or companies may be held "strictly liable" for certain activities that harm others, even if they have not acted negligently or with wrongful intent. Under this theory, a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product, for instance, may recover compensation from the maker or seller of the product without showing that the manufacturer or seller was actually negligent. Also, persons or companies engaged in using explosives, storing dangerous substances, or keeping dangerous animals can be strictly liable for harm caused to others as a result of such activities.

Not in the traditional sense of the word. Defendants in civil actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or criminal fines as punishment. Those are criminal sentences, and personal injury cases are civil actions. However, in some cases, juries and courts can award what are called "punitive damages," which are designed to punish defendants who have behaved recklessly or intentionally against the public's interest. The goal in ordering the payment of punitive damages is to discourage such defendants and others from engaging in the same kind of harmful behavior in the future.

Medical Malpractice FAQs

Medical malpractice is negligence committed by a professional health care provider, such as a doctor, nurse, dentist, technician, hospital worker or hospital, whose treatment of a patient departs from a standard of care met by those with similar training and experience, resulting in harm to a patient.

In general, there are no guarantees of medical results, and unexpected or unsuccessful results do not necessarily mean negligence occurred. To succeed in a medical malpractice case, a plaintiff has to show an injury or damages that resulted from the doctor's deviation from the standard of care applicable to the procedure.

Although the specific definition of informed consent may vary from state to state, it means essentially that a physician (or other medical provider) must tell a patient all of the potential benefits, risks and alternatives involved in any surgical procedure, medical procedure or other course of treatment, and must obtain the patient's written consent to proceed

Your physician had a duty to tell you that the drug was part of an experimental program, and you had the right to refuse to participate in it. You may have grounds for an action against your doctor based on his or her failure to obtain your "informed consent" relative to this treatment.

Yes, you still may be able to recover damages. A consent form does not release a physician who performed a procedure negligently from liability. If you can establish that your doctor deviated from the applicable standard of care in performing the procedure, and you were injured as a result, you may still recover against him or her. You may also have a claim that the procedure the physician performed went beyond the consent you gave, in which case the doctor might even be liable for battery.

A jury will consider the testimony of experts, usually other doctors, who will testify whether they believe your physician's actions followed standard medical practices or fell below the accepted standard of care.

One obstacle plaintiffs in many states may have to overcome before they can even file a malpractice action against a health care professional is the requirement that they file what is commonly known as a "certificate of merit." In order to file a certificate of merit, a plaintiff will first have to have an expert, usually another physician, review the relevant medical records and certify that the plaintiffs health care provider deviated from accepted medical practices, which resulted in injury to the plaintiff. The plaintiffs attorney then files the certificate of merit, which confirms that the attorney has consulted with a medical expert and that the plaintiffs action has merit.