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Do First Time Offenders Need To Hire an Attorney?

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Fight Misdemeanor Charges as a First Time Offender? | ATX Legal

If you’re facing a misdemeanor charge as a first-time offender, you may be asking yourself if hiring a criminal defense lawyer is necessary. The short answer is yes. While the charges may seem minor, the consequences of a conviction can still impact your life significantly, and may include fines, probation, community service, and possibly jail time. It can also be a mark on your permanent criminal record for life. If charged with a first-time misdemeanor, fill out a contact form to schedule a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Your First Experience with the Criminal Justice System can be Daunting

Navigating through the criminal justice system as a first-time offender can be intimidating. The legal language, procedures, and the potential penalties can be overwhelming. It’s easy to feel lost and confused, and that’s where the legal guidance of a misdemeanor lawyer becomes invaluable. The process takes months, not weeks. Knowledge of the legal process and plea bargaining can limit negative consequences of the criminal charge.

Penalties for Texas Misdemeanors

In Texas, misdemeanors are classified into classes which carry respective penalties as per the Texas Penal Code. It's dangerous to go alone. Take a lawyer with you even when only charged with a misdemeanor case. Class A Misdemeanors are the most serious type of misdemeanors in Texas, carrying penalties of up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $4,000, or both. Examples of Class A misdemeanors include burglary of a vehicle, assault causing bodily harm, and DWI – 2nd (Texas Penal Code §12.21). Class B Misdemeanors, on the other hand, are less severe but still carry significant penalties. If convicted, you may face up to 180 days in county jail, a fine of up to $2,000, or both. Common examples of Class B misdemeanors include possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, DWI (first offense), and indecent exposure (Texas Penal Code §12.22).

How Does Being a First-Time Offender Impact Your Case?

As a first-time offender, you may be eligible for more lenient sentences or even diversion programs that can prevent a conviction from appearing on your record. However, whether these options are available largely depends on your case’s specifics.

How can a Lawyer Help?

A criminal defense lawyer can guide you through the legal labyrinth, ensuring your rights are respected throughout the process. They can negotiate with the prosecution, possibly resulting in reduced charges or even dismissal.

Common Types of Misdemeanors

The most common misdemeanor offenses can be classified, broadly, into DWI, assault, and drug crimes.These misdemeanor offenses differ in how they are handled by the judge and prosecutors.

First-time DWI

A first-time DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) is generally categorized as a misdemeanor. You may face fines, alcohol education or treatment, and license suspension. Common probation conditions include a MADD victim Impact Panel and an Ignition Interlock Device in your vehicle. In Texas, a first-time DWI can result in a fine of up to $2,000 and a jail sentence from 3 days to 180 days, though probation is more likely. DWI diversion is often available for first-time defendants in Travis County, which can allow you to avoid a criminal conviction for the DWI after completing certain requirements.

First-time Assault

A first-time assault charge can also be a misdemeanor, depending on the seriousness of the alleged assault. Even a first-time assault can be charged as a felony in some circumstances, like when it involves serious bodily injury or a deadly weapon. Penalties may include fines, probation, and mandatory anger management classes. Additionally, there are special considerations when the misdemeanor charge involves a domestic violence charge. These should be taken especially seriously, because even misdemeanor convictions can carry significant collateral consequences, such as a loss of gun rights.

First-time Drug Possession

Drug possession charges can range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the type and quantity of the drug. For first-time offenders with small amounts, the charge is typically a misdemeanor unless it involves certain substances like meth, heroin, or cocaine which are always charged as a felony. However, if charged with manufacture or delivery of drugs, Texas law enhances these cases to a felony

Plea Bargaining for First Time Offenders

A plea bargain allows a first-time offender to plead guilty to a lesser charge. This can result in a lighter sentence and is often a strategic move negotiated by your defense attorney. Sometimes this involves pleading guilty to a misdemeanor offense, but not always! Your misdemeanor lawyer may be able to work out a plea that does not involve a conviction of any crime.

Pretrial Diversion

Pretrial diversion programs offer first-time offenders an opportunity to avoid a conviction. DWI Court, drug court, and youthful offender court are all forms of pretrial diversion. By meeting certain conditions, such as attending rehabilitation or performing community service, the charges may be dropped. Just like with any dismissal, you can then have the criminal charges expunged from your criminal record so that they do not show on background checks. If it's your first offense, a pretrial diversion program like drug court could be a good option.

First Time Offender FAQs

  1. How quickly will my friend/loved one get bonded out of jail?
The bond process can vary greatly in terms of time, depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction. After a bond has been set by a judge, it could take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days for your friend or loved one to be released from jail. In Travis County, it typically takes 24 hours, unless there is a complication, like a stay-away order.
  1. How will a misdemeanor impact my criminal history?
Misdemeanor charges will show on your record as an arrest within a week or two. A misdemeanor conviction will appear on your criminal record only if you plea guilty, or are found guilty by a jury. This can potentially affect future employment, housing applications, and educational opportunities. It can also influence the court’s sentencing in any future criminal proceedings. Fortunately, there are often ways to avoid a conviction for a misdemeanor criminal offense when it is your first time in the criminal justice system. If dismissed, you can have the arrest expunged. However, the arrest for the criminal offense will still show on your record even if dismissed. You have to take the proactive step to have the criminal charges expunged.
  1. Will a misdemeanor cost me my job?
The impact of a misdemeanor on your employment depends on various factors, including your employer’s policies, the nature of the crime, and whether your job requires a clean criminal record. Some employers may choose to terminate employment depending on the seriousness of the misdemeanor. Check out this blog post for more information.

Misdemeanor Defense Lawyer Serving Austin, TX

If you’re facing misdemeanor charges as a first-time offender in Austin, TX, we at ATX Legal are ready to help. Experienced criminal defense attorney Rob Chesnutt understands the nuances of the legal system in Central Texas Whether charged with a serious felony, or a minor misdemeanor crime, He can guide you to the best possible outcome for your case.

505 West 12th Street, Suite 200 Austin Texas 78701

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