Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Defense Matters
The following are answers to questions frequently encountered by the attorneys at the Law Offices of L. Morgan Martin as part of their criminal defense legal practice in Conway and the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. If you have other questions or need advice or representation in a particular criminal law matter, contact our office for a free initial consultation by calling 800-506-0311 or 843-484-0993.
Q. What do I do if I have been arrested?
A. Truly, the most important thing to remember is to request an attorney as soon as possible. Do not agree to answer any questions or consent to any search until you have spoken with a qualified and experienced criminal defense lawyer. Other than that, it is important to try and stay calm and cooperative. The police may have the right to conduct a limited search of your person, vehicle, or immediate surroundings; you should not obstruct them in any way, but let your attorney know the facts regarding your arrest when you speak with him or her.
Q. Do I have to submit to a blood-alcohol test?
A. You have the right to refuse a test, and the police are required to inform you of that right. Your blood alcohol level is one piece of evidence the state can use against you, in addition to the officer’s observation of your driving, appearance, speech, and any other evidence. Keep in mind that refusing to take a test results in an immediate 90 day suspension of your driver’s license, or 180 days if this is your second offense.
Q. Is it better to accept a plea bargain or go to trial?
A. Like the decision over whether to testify on your own behalf, the decision to accept a plea or not is a decision you must make after being informed of the options and potential consequences. The outcome of every trial is uncertain no matter how strong the case is, so it is sometimes preferable to plea guilty for a lesser sentence rather than face the potential for much heavier consequences if convicted. Your attorney can help you evaluate the strength of your defense and the prosecutor’s case and inform you of the potential punishments you face, so that you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed.
Q. The police are asking for permission to search my home. What do I do?
A. In almost all situations, the police do not have a right to search your home without a valid search warrant. Of course, police may conduct a search anytime you give them your consent. There is almost never any situation where consenting to a search is a good idea; if you are unsure, contact an attorney for advice before you consent.
If the police have a search warrant, or if they tell you they have a right to search your premises, you should cooperate and not attempt to obstruct them. Contact an attorney as soon as possible after the search. If the search was unlawful, your attorney can have any evidence obtained in the search suppressed at trial.
Q. The police want to ask me some questions, but I haven’t been arrested, and they haven’t read me my rights.
A. In many cases, particularly with white collar crimes, the police conduct lengthy investigations before they make any arrests. It is sometimes hard to know whether you are being targeted as a suspect, or if the police are only trying to get information from you. In most instances, regardless of what the police say, questioning is done in order to get the person to say something incriminating; he or she is already a suspect.
The police only have to “read you your rights,” also known as Miranda warnings, when you have been arrested or are in custodial interrogation, meaning that you are not free to leave. Whether you have been arrested or not, you always have the right to remain silent, and you always have the right to consult your attorney before agreeing to answer any questions. Even if you want to help and cooperate with police questioning, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by contacting an attorney before you do so. Your attorney may wish to advise you beforehand or be present for the questioning. If you are being investigated, your attorney may be able to influence what specific charges are brought or work to avoid having any charges brought against you at all.