What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?
A criminal defense lawyer protects you and ensures that your rights were not violated either before or after you have been arrested for any crime in Connecticut. A criminal defense lawyer will evaluate the charges against you, the evidence the prosecutor claims to have to support the charges and the potential penalties you face if you are found guilty of the charges. The lawyer will devise the best strategy to defend you from the charges and, if necessary, will negotiate a reasonable plea agreement for you. If you have been arrested, have a warrant out for your arrest, or are being investigated, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer to help you through the process.
Offenses and Punishments
Crimes are punishable as either felonies or misdemeanors. A felony has a jail sentence of at least one year and misdemeanors are punishable by one year or less. Connecticut classifies felonies and misdemeanors as Class A through Class D. In some cases, a crime may not be classified unless it has the same maximum prison term as any of the felony or misdemeanor classes A through D. The state also has a capital felony A class.
Those who are found guilty either after trial or by a guilty plea may receive jail time, a fine or both. Connecticut’s penal code also provides for “enhanced penalties” for acts of terrorism, repeat offenders and some other types of offenders. Additionally, if you are accused of acting as an accomplice or attempting to commit a certain crime, you can receive a prison sentence, a fine or both. Except for Class A felonies, the attempt to commit a crime is the same class as the crime. If you attempt to commit a Class A felony, the attempt is classified as a Class B felony.
The Death Penalty
Currently, Connecticut does not have the death penalty. However, that was not always true. Before 1976, the state saw 126 executions, including military and federal executions. After 1976, Connecticut saw just one execution. The death penalty was abolished on April 25, 2012. Before that, if you received a death sentence, Northern Correctional Institution in Somers housed you. When the death penalty was abolished, 11 people were on death row. It took until 2015 to get those sentences changed to life without parole. Although the State of Connecticut no longer has the death penalty as a punishment, if the federal government has jurisdiction over a case involving a murder, the federal government can seek the death penalty. Only one defendant has been sentenced to death in the federal system in Connecticut.
Capital Felony A
The only crime that is considered a capital felony in Connecticut is murder with special circumstances. These include:
- The killing of any police officer, constable, chief inspector, a Division of Criminal Justice inspector, state marshal, judicial marshal, special policeman, conservation officer, a Department of Correction employee and/or firefighter.
- Hiring someone to kill someone for you.
- Murdering someone if you have been convicted of a previous murder.
- Killing someone while you are committing a felony.
- Killing someone if you are already in prison for life.
- Killing someone while you are also committing sexual assault in the first degree.
- Killing someone after you kidnap the person or during the commission of the kidnapping.
- When you kill two or more people at the same time or two or more people during the same “transaction.”
- And, killing someone who is under 16 years of age.
A capital felony is punishable by life in prison without parole. Murder under other circumstances is considered a Class A felony and is punishable by up to 60 years.
Before the Arraignment
If you have a warrant against you, contact a Connecticut criminal law attorney to discuss your options. Your best option is usually to turn yourself in, but an attorney will represent your interests when you do so.
If you have been arrested, you should contact a criminal law attorney immediately. The attorney will be able to advise on the next steps and can help you with practical considerations like contacting your family and arranging for bail because you will have limited access to the outside world. You may only be allowed one phone call. Never answer any questions other than identifying yourself until your attorney is present.
An attorney will protect you and your rights at an arraignment and may even be able to obtain evidence favorable to you before the hearing begins. Depending on your circumstances, an attorney may also negotiate with the state’s attorney for a lesser sentence, a lesser bond amount or even for you to be released on your own recognizance.
If you are a first time offender with a job and family and are not a flight risk, an attorney may be able to negotiate an excellent deal. Even if you are a repeat offender, depending on what you are accused of, an attorney may be able to negotiate a better situation for you.
If you are innocent and have an alibi, be sure to let your attorney know. Also, if you are being accused of something but had a good reason to do it, be sure to let your attorney know as there may be affirmative defenses for your behavior. For example, Connecticut’s Castle Doctrine (a type of self-defense) allows you to protect your home with reasonable force, including deadly force. You may be arrested for murder if you use deadly force, but an attorney will help you present your claim under the Castle Doctrine.
After the Arraignment
If you do not contact an attorney until after the arraignment, you may have been released or you may have been sent back to jail. An attorney will still be able to work on your behalf to prepare for trial, negotiate a plea bargain, get the charges dismissed or reduce the bond. The attorney will also obtain discovery—the evidence the state has against you.
If you have witnesses and other information that could help the attorney with your case, you should provide that information as soon as possible. The attorney can hire a defense investigator experienced in finding witnesses, taking statements and discovering favorable evidence.
In short, Speak with a criminal defense attorney works to protect you throughout the process and to achieve the best possible outcome.