1. What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?
According to Merriam-Webster, misdemeanor is “a crime less serious than a felony.” Felony is “a crime for which the punishment in federal law may be death or imprisonment for more than one year.”
Historically, misdemeanors pertain to less serious offenses as distinguished from felonies. But over the years, the distinction between these terms has disappeared gradually. For one, all misdemeanors can now have serious impact on one’s employment, professional licenses, insurance coverage, and commercial relations, among others.
Under Texas laws, misdemeanors are classified into 3 categories that merit different penalties:
Class C Misdemeanor: Offenses relating to this classification are the least serious types. These offenses include shoplifting, public intoxication, and resisting arrest. Conviction may result in the imposition of a fine as high as $500.
Class B Misdemeanor: Under this classification, the imposable fine may reach as high as $2,000. In addition, the court may impose a sentence of imprisonment of up to 6 months. Offenses relating to this classification include engaging in prostitution, indecent exposure and vandalizing property.
Class A Misdemeanor: This is the worst of all 3 misdemeanor classifications. The imposable fine may increase up to $4,000 while its jail sentence could last for a year. Offenses involve under this classification include perjury, assault, DWI, and cruelty to animals.
Unlike in a misdemeanor conviction, a judgment of guilt for the commission of a felony will generally result in the loss of the rights to vote, serve jury duty or own a firearm.
2. What is the difference between a retained lawyer and a court-appointed lawyer or public defender?
A retained lawyer is one whose legal services are acquired by a person to pursue, defend, or otherwise represent him in a case filed in court.
A court-appointed lawyer or public defender is one who is assigned by the court to represent or appear in behalf of party in court.
Before the court appoints a lawyer to represent a person in court, it has to ascertain if the defendant is indigent. There are guidelines, primarily based on income, to meet before the court will designate a lawyer to appear in behalf of a party.
The court will assess the financial circumstances of the party to be represented. This involves looking into his assets, liabilities, income and other factors to see if he can afford to hire a lawyer. When the court finds that the party is indigent and has no means to retain the services of a lawyer, that’s the time the court will appoint one.
3. Is it best to use a retained lawyer or a court-appointed lawyer or public defender?
Most people say it would be best to retain a lawyer rather than have the court appoint one. One study confirmed this, saying those who have court-appointed lawyers or public defenders are more likely to be incarcerated as against those who hire the counsel of their choice. Around 58 percent of criminal defendants with court-appointed counsel were sentenced to prison; on the other hand, only 29 percent of those with private attorneys were incarcerated.
4. What should I say if I’m being questioned by the police?
If you are being investigated, charged, or apprehended for a crime, you have the right to remain silent. If questioned by law enforcement agents, you cannot be compelled to say anything that could incriminate you for an offense.
Known as the Miranda rights, every person under police custody or in a custodial investigation has the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney. If you are unable to acquire the services of a lawyer, one will be provided by the court.
There are instances where arrests occur without these rights being read. However, if the apprehending police officer later decides to interrogate the suspect, the Miranda rights must be
5. How does it work if I invoke my right to an attorney?
If you invoke the right to have an attorney, you will have to communicate the desire of a defense attorney to the police officer you are in the custody of.
Until appropriate legal representation is present, no interrogation or questioning may be conducted. Questioning and investigation may only be done in the presence of counsel.
Have more questions? Contact the Houston criminal defense lawyers at Ricardo N. Gonzalez & Associates today.