If you have been arrested, have a warrant, or are under investigation for a crime in Arkansas, you should call a Fayetteville criminal law lawyer right away. The criminal court process can be difficult to manage, and if this is your first experience with criminal law, you can make serious missteps when you are on your own. By hiring a criminal defense attorney in Fayetteville, Arkansas, you will know your rights and have someone there to protect them. You will have someone ready to fight for you and to improve your chance of a positive outcome in your case.
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 attorneys are former Benton, Sebastian, and Washington County prosecuting attorneys, and they have the experience and knowledge to help you navigate this process in our region.
Criminal Cases Differ From Civil Cases
If you have never been arrested before, you may not fully understand Arkansas’ criminal law and process. You may have a number of questions, and our criminal defense attorneys in Fayetteville, Arkansas are here to answer them.
To begin with, you must understand there is a significant difference between civil and criminal matters in the American legal system. Civil cases are brought by individuals or businesses against other individuals or businesses. The plaintiff, which is the person who files the civil lawsuit, 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 are not brought by a person or business. Instead, the plaintiff is the government and the person who files the criminal charges is a prosecutor.
The prosecutor may work 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 harsh sanctions that operate as punishment.
Civil and criminal cases also differ in the standard that must be met to prove a defendant is guilty or at fault. In a civil case, the standard of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. This means it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the harm. In a criminal case, the standard of proof is much higher. The prosecutor must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Criminal Cases We Handle
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, whether it is a serious traffic violation or a violent felony crime, do not hesitate to call us to speak with a Fayetteville criminal defense lawyer. At The Law Group of Northwest Arkansas LLP, we handle a wide range of criminal matters, including:
When You Can Be Arrested in Arkansas
Criminal cases often begin with an arrest. You may be stopped by the police while driving or in public. 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 the stop.
Not all stops will result in an arrest. The police may question you—though you do not have to answer their questions—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 must be made through the officer’s observations, such as what they can see, hear, and smell. It also can be based on a police officer’s knowledge and experience, such as recognizing gang signs or easily purchased equipment to make drugs. Again, it cannot be based off 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 should inform you of your Miranda Rights. This is 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 an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
The officer will then ask if you understand these rights and whether you wish to speak with them.
You have the right to remain silent following an arrest, and you should invoke this right. You need to clearly state “I am invoking my right to remain silent.” If you do not speak up and 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 an attorney.” You must be absolutely clear and unequivocal that you want an attorney. You cannot say you think you should get an attorney or think you may need an attorney. Do not ask the police whether you need an attorney—they will almost always say you do not. You must state with certainty that you want to an attorney and you will not answer any questions without a lawyer present.
Even if you cannot afford an attorney, you have a right to be represented by a public defender. If you do not clearly state you want an attorney, they are not required to stop interrogating you.
The Criminal Court Process
What happens if you’ve been arrested?
Once you are arrested, the prosecutor can begin the criminal court process. The court process 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. Another way in which you may be charged with a crime is 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 you committed the crime, they may hand down an indictment against you.
Next, whether you have already been arrested or are arrested in response to a warrant, you must attend your arraignment. At this court hearing, you are informed of the charges against you and of your rights. At this time, you are given the option to hire your own attorney, if you do not yet 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 your potential punishments can increase.
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 criminal defense attorney in Fayetteville, Arkansas, 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 have the right to a jury trial, though you can waive this right for a bench trial, which means only the judge hears and decides the case.
To be found guilty at trial, the prosecutor must prove you committed the 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 very specific rules and procedures that must be followed, and our experienced criminal defense attorneys will navigate this process for you. If you are found guilty, then you will attend a separate sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, the judge will determine your penalties, such as incarceration, fines, probation, and other criminal consequences.
Levels of Criminal Charges and Penalties in Arkansas
In any state, there are many levels of crimes. The most significant difference is between misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are lower-level offenses. Felonies are much more serious offenses, which can be more harshly punished.
As of January 1, 2018, Arkansas implemented new sentencing guidelines. Specifically, there is a new sentencing grid that determines a presumptive sentence based on the offense seriousness level and your offender criminal history.
Every misdemeanor and felony offense has a seriousness level of 1 through 10. This is on the vertical axis of the grid. Then, based on your criminal history, you are 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:
- Punishable by between 10 and 40 years in prison, or life imprisonment.
- Punishable by between 6 and 30 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- Punishable by between 5 and 20 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- Punishable by between 3 and 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Punishable by up to 6 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Punishable in accordance with the statute defining the felony offense.
- Punishable by up to 1 year of incarceration and fines up to $2,500.
- Punishable by up to 90 days of incarceration and fines up to $1,000.
- 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 in obtaining 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
Call a Fayetteville Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help
If you or a loved one are facing misdemeanor or felony criminal charges, it is best to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. By hiring a lawyer, there is a much better chance of obtaining the best possible outcome in the case, such as having the charges dropped or dismissed or obtaining an acquittal at trial. An experienced lawyer with The Law Group of Northwest Arkansas LLP can also seek to mitigate the consequences of a potential conviction.