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From charging decisions to bail determinations

May 25, 2017 | Criminal law

Every moment from an arrest matters. As the gears of the criminal justice system slowly begin to crank, past convictions could re-emerge that increase a charge or penalty.

An initial hearing will discuss release conditions and almost always set monetary bail. Without experienced counsel, it’s possible to sit in Harris County jail longer than you ever expected.

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How can old convictions affect a charge?

Prosecutors will pull your criminal record and use past mistakes against you. An “enhanced” charge based on a past conviction could increase the severity of the current charge and will carry stiffer punishments.

Take a class B misdemeanor for possession of ecstasy. A past conviction for a similar misdemeanor charge could mean a minimum of 30 days in jail. Felony charges can carry a minimum of 15 years if another felony conviction is part of your long forgotten past.

How can a criminal defense attorney help? Closely analyzing old conviction may find that they cannot properly be used against you. Finding out how the prosecution might be planning to use past mistakes against you at trial is crucial. This is all part of developing the best strategy to minimize the consequences and get you back to you life.

Pre-trial release standards might be changing

A federal judge recently ordered that things must change in Harris County for those charged with low-level crimes. As of May 15, anyone arrested on a misdemeanor will have the option of release within 24 hours of arrest even if they cannot afford bail.

After reviewing 2,300 videos of bail hearings and 300 written exhibits, the judge put into place the temporary measure while the lawsuit proceeds toward trial. The issue is whether bail schemes violate the Constitution by disproportionately affecting low-income residents.

One statistic cited in the opinion, was that 40 percent of those arrested on Harris County on misdemeanor charges waited in jail until their cases were decided. One of the plaintiffs in the case spent two days behind bars after an arrest for driving without a license. She could not post the $2,500 bail.

Other states are dropping bail requirements on minor charges or are reforming their bail systems. It’s not yet clear how much the Harris County bail system will change.

After an arrest, you need immediate counsel from an experienced attorney who knows the current system and how to navigate you through it. A strong defense from the first hearing ensures you are not stranded behind bars.