Let's be honest. Getting arrested and having a criminal charge hanging over your head is likely the worst thing that's ever happened to you. Even if you are only facing misdemeanor charges, the prospect of jail time, injury to your reputation, and significant fines and legal fees weigh heavily on your mind.
If you are charged with a felony, the fear is much greater. You fear prison time. The length of a felony case - several months, possibly years - sort of makes everything else in your life fade into the background. From the moment you wake up until you go to sleep at night (which may be difficult in and of itself) you are consumed with thoughts about your case.
I'm a lawyer but I'm also a human being. Part of my job is addressing these fears. And you know what? These fears are perfectly normal. They are healthy and you should discuss them with friends, loved ones, and especially your criminal defense attorney.
Too many lawyers lack "bedside manner." They are all about the case itself without any regard for the client. Now I believe in doing everything possible to get the best outcome, but I also appreciate that while cases drag on, continuance after continuance, the client - not the attorney - is the one who's burdened with the fear of the unknown.
Their minds are pondering the worst questions known to humankind - what's going to happen?
Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear we have. We like to maintain control over our lives, and when facing criminal prosecution, there are too many factors that are simply beyond control.
Here's what you need to remember.
Despite the fact that you will be thinking about your criminal case all day, everyday (you may even check the online docket dozens of times a day), you need to have something that will keep your mind occupied. Work. School. A hobby. Something that you can focus on, even for a brief while, can give your concerns a rest.
While a prosecution is pending, it is important to stay healthy. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Not only can that result in more legal problems, being in an altered state of mind will only make you more anxious about your current situation. Get exercise. This is a great way to relieve your stress in a positive way.
Avoid excessive Google research and talking to non-lawyer friends and loved ones. This will only make the unknown more unknown, as these uneducated sources will undoubtedly provide you with false hope and wrong information. If you are facing a certain criminal charge, don't think that because your buddy got his case dismissed that the same thing will automatically happen with your case. And on the flip side, if your uncle's co-worker's son's roommate (whatever) went to prison for ten years for the same charges you're facing, don't think that his unfortunate fate will be your's as well.
Every case is different. There are different facts, different circumstances, different...well, everything. A previous outcome for one will NEVER guarantee, or even remotely assure, a future outcome for anybody.
This above all else - you must ask yourself (and your attorney), what is the worst that can happen?
What are you charged with? If you have no prior record and you are facing a misdemeanor, like a petit theft or possession of cannabis charge, the likelihood that you will serve jail time is very slim. Your case may resolve with a diversion program, such as Misdemeanor Diversion in Broward or Pretrial Diversion in Miami-Dade. This would entail perhaps taking a class, doing some community service, and paying a few hundred bucks in fees. Is that so bad? Is that worth losing sleep over?
Communicate with your attorney. That's what you pay them for. Tell your attorney your fears and ask them, what is the most realistic outcome for my case. And when choosing an attorney to hire, make sure that you find an attorney who will be honest with you. Many attorneys will promise you the moon or on the other side, try to scare you into hiring them by grossly exaggerating the penalties that you are facing.
No criminal charge should be taken lightly, but you must have a realistic idea of what to expect. If only for your well-being.
Now, if you are facing serious charges; a violent felony or perhaps a charge that carries a mandatory minimum prison term, the worry may be unavoidable. It is important that you have a frank discussion with your attorney and understand what consequences may lie ahead. When facing considerable prison time, your case will take longer to resolve. This may add to your worry. Use this time to find means of distraction - be it work, a hobby, or school.
If prison is a serious possibility, find out how much time you're looking at. A year? Two years? Once you've mentally prepared yourself the shock will wear off and you may convince yourself that you can handle it. What's a year anyway? It's not the rest of your life. This too shall pass.
If you are already in custody and have been in custody for some time, a few more months may not seem so bad (you will receive credit toward your prison sentence for all the time you have spent in county jail).
If you are in custody pending serious charges, try to avoid the urge to discuss your case with other inmates. Not only will you receive incorrect legal advice, speaking openly about your case to others who are facing their own charges may result in jailhouse snitches - inmates who agree to testify against other inmates in exchange for leniency.
All in all, getting arrested and facing prosecution is awful. There is nothing remotely pleasant about it. But it is an unfortunate fact of life. Whether you made a mistake or you're factually innocent, the process is mentally taxing and it is important that you try to remain calm and positive.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney representing clients in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County.