If you have been arrested, have a warrant, or are under investigation for a crime in Arkansas, you should contact a Fayetteville criminal law attorney right away. The criminal court process can be difficult to manage, and you can make serious missteps when you are on your own. By hiring a Northwest Arkansas criminal defense attorney, you will know your rights and have someone on your side to protect them. TLGNWA’s criminal defense lawyers are ready to fight for you and improve your chances for a positive outcome.
To learn more about how our Fayetteville, AR law firm can help, call the Law Group of Northwest Arkansas LLP at (479) 316-3760 or use our online contact form. Our criminal defense lawyers include former Benton, Sebastian, and Washington County prosecuting attorneys with the experience and knowledge to help you navigate the criminal defense process in our NWA.
Criminal Cases Differ From Civil Cases
If you have never been arrested before, you may not fully understand Arkansas’ criminal law and process. Our criminal defense attorneys in Fayetteville, Arkansas are here to answer your questions.
Understanding the difference between civil and criminal matters within the U.S. legal system is essential to planning your defense. Civil cases are brought by individuals or businesses against other individuals or businesses and have a plaintiff (the person who files the lawsuit) who is asking the court to address a harm the defendant (the person being sued) caused them. A common resolution to a civil case is money.
Criminal cases, on the other hand, are brought by a government agency or entity. In criminal cases, the plaintiff is the government, and the person who files the criminal charges is a prosecutor who works on behalf of the federal government, Arkansas government, or a local government. When a defendant is found guilty in a criminal case, it can result in fines, community service requirements, incarceration, probation, and other sanctions that function as some form of punishment. This is why hiring an experienced Arkansas criminal defense lawyer is important; to protect your rights and reduce or even eradicate your punishment.
Civil and criminal cases also require different standards to prove a defendant is guilty or at fault. In civil cases, the standard of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the harm. In a criminal case, the standard of proof is much harder to prove because the prosecutor must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
When You Are Arrested in Arkansas
Criminal cases often begin with an arrest. For an officer to stop and detain you (which means you are not free to walk away), that officer must have reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, are currently committing a crime, or will soon commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion is a low bar, but it is more than a hunch or gut feeling. A police officer must have facts to support their suspicion and justify the stop.
Not all stops result in an arrest. The police may question you (thought you do not have to answer), and they may frisk you, which entails patting you down on the outside of your clothing to look for weapons.
An officer can arrest you if they have probable cause that you are involved in a crime. Probable cause means the officer has facts that point to you previously committing or planning to commit an offense. These facts can be made through the officer’s observations (what they can see, hear, and smell), or they can be based on a police officer’s knowledge and experience, such as recognizing gang signs or easily purchased equipment to make drugs, but in no case can an arrest be based on a gut feeling or hunch.
Your Rights During and After You Are Arrested
You will know when you are placed under arrest because an officer must inform you of your Miranda Rights, also known as being read your rights. The officer will say:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to a defense attorney.
- If you cannot afford a criminal defense attorney, one will be provided for you.
The officer will then ask if you understand the rights and if you wish to speak with them.
You have the right to remain silent following an arrest, and you should invoke this right by clearly stating, “I am invoking my right to remain silent.” If you do not say you are going to remain silent, the police will continue to ask you questions. They will not leave you alone, and they are not required to stop interrogating you.
You also have the right to an attorney. When you choose to remain silent, you should also state, “I will not answer any questions without an attorney present. I want a lawyer.” You must be absolutely clear about wanting a defense attorney. Refrain from ambiguous statements like saying you think you should get a criminal defense lawyer or that you may need an attorney, and do not ask the police whether you need a lawyer because they will almost always say you do not. You must state with certainty that you want to speak to a defense attorney and will not answer questions without an experienced criminal defense lawyer present.
Even if you cannot afford an attorney, you have a right to be represented by legal counsel or a public defender. Remember, the police are only required to stop interrogating you if you do not clearly state that you want to have a defense attorney present.
The Northwest Arkansas Criminal Court Process
What happens when you are arrested?
After an arrest, the prosecutor can begin the criminal court process which begins with the prosecutor filing information about the alleged crime with the court. This document names you as a suspect and states which crimes you allegedly committed. You can also be charged with a crime through a grand jury. If you have been investigated for a serious crime, a prosecutor may convene a grand jury to hear the evidence. If the jurors believe there is probable cause that you committed the crime, they may hand down an indictment against you.
Whether you have already been arrested or are arrested in response to a warrant, you must attend your arraignment. This is a court hearing where you are informed about the charges against you and of your rights. During arraignment, you are given the option to hire an attorney, if you do not already have one, or to ask for a public defender. You cannot skip this step in the process. Failing to show for an arraignment, or any court date can result in additional warrants being issued against you and can potentially increase punishments. Having been arrested, the arraignment may also deal with your release from jail. The judge will decide whether you must be detained or whether you can be released, and if so, under what conditions. You may be able to obtain your release if you can pay a certain amount in bail.
If you plead not guilty, then the criminal court process begins to move toward a pre-trial. A pre-trial is a sort of mini-trial that deals with preliminary matters, such as whether certain evidence is appropriate, relevant, and admissible. At this time, you and your Fayetteville, Arkansas criminal defense attorney in may discuss plea bargains with the prosecutor. If you do not resolve the case through a pre-trial hearing or plea deal, then your case will move forward for trial. You will always have the right to a jury trial, but you can waive this right for a bench trial where only the judge hears and decides the case.
To be found guilty at trial, the prosecutor must prove you committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If your criminal defense lawyer is able to create doubt within the judge or jurors’ minds, then you may be acquitted. Trials have specific rules and procedures that must be followed, and TLGNWA’s experienced criminal defense attorneys will navigate this process for you. If you are found guilty, then a separate sentencing hearing will be scheduled. At the sentencing hearing, the judge will determine your penalties, such as incarceration, fines, probation, or other criminal consequences.
Levels of Criminal Charges and Penalties in Arkansas
In all states, there are levels of crimes. The most significant difference in levels is between misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are low-level offenses while felonies are much more serious and can be more harshly punished.
In January 2018, Arkansas implemented a new sentencing guideline grid that specifically determines a presumptive sentence based on the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s criminal history. Misdemeanor and felony offenses are rated on a seriousness level of 1 through 10 (the vertical axis of the grid), and criminal history (the horizontal axis of the grid) is given a score of one through five. Where the seriousness level of your offense and your criminal history score meet is the presumptive range for your sentencing.
To learn more about the sentence you face for a specific crime, in relation to your criminal history, call us today to speak with a Fayetteville criminal defense lawyer.
Under the Arkansas Code §5-4-401, the levels of crimes and their respective punishments are:
Class Y Felony:
- Punishable by between 10 to 40 years in prison, or life imprisonment.
Class A Felony:
- Punishable by between 6 to 30 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
Class B Felony:
- Punishable by between 5 to 20 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
Class C Felony:
- Punishable by between 3 to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
Class D Felony:
- Punishable by up to 6 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Punishable in accordance with the statute defining the felony offense.
Class A Misdemeanor:
- Punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and fines up to $2,500.
Class B Misdemeanor:
- Punishable by up to 90 days of incarceration and fines up to $1,000.
Class C Misdemeanor:
- Punishable by up to 30 days of incarceration and fines up to $500
Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction in Fayetteville
If you are convicted of a crime in Fayetteville, you may face many punishments and secondary consequences in addition to imprisonment and fines. Criminal sentences may include restitution to victims, probation for months or years, community service, alcohol and drug abuse counseling and treatment, loss of your driver’s license, loss of your professional license, and sex offender registration.
Outside of the criminal penalties, you could also experience:
- Challenges obtaining and keeping a job
- Challenges obtaining an education
- Ineligibility for federal student loans or private financial aid
- Ineligibility for or difficulty obtaining certain professional licenses
- Child custody modifications in the other parent’s favor
- Immigration difficulties, including loss of a visa, denial of a permanent residency or citizenship application, or deportation
- Ineligibility to vote while incarcerated or on probation or parole
- Difficulty traveling internationally
- Loss of your right to own firearm