Navigating the legal system can be intimidating. That’s probably why you asked for an attorney. Or maybe you said you didn’t want an attorney, and the judge convinced you otherwise. This guide is intended to give you some basic information about the legal process, and about being charged with a crime in Douglas County. We’ll cover all this stuff at the first appointment, but for those of you that want to find out everything they can in advance, here you are:
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you face the maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and a $6,250 fine if it’s a Class A misdemeanor. Class B and C misdemeanors are less. For felonies, the maximum penalty is 20/10/5 years prison and a fine of $375,000/$250,000/$125,000 for Class A, B and C felonies, respectively. Please don’t stress out regarding these maximum penalties – it is unlikely they apply to your situation, because if the crime was serious enough to warrant the maximum, you would probably be held in jail instead of released out of custody. With the exception of Measure 11 felonies, repeat property offender crimes and DUII, most felonies in Oregon are punishable based on your prior criminal history. Some charges, like drug possession, always fall into a set sentence of jail or work crew, unless special circumstances apply. Other crimes may alternatively result in either jail or prison time, depending on prior history. Misdemeanor crimes have no set guidelines, other than the maximums. Felony convictions usually entail a period of supervision, while most misdemeanor sentences do not have any terms of probation.
Plea bargains vs. going to trial
As a client, it is YOUR decision whether to take a deal or go to trial. Very few cases end up in trial, simply because 1) prosecutors end up not pursuing their weakest cases and 2) many people end up taking a plea bargain if it spares them jail or prison time, even if they did not commit the crime alleged by the State. As a client, you get to make the decision about whether to go to trial or whether to take a negotiated plea with the prosecutor. It is also your decision whether to do a jury trial or a judge trial, and whether to testify in your own defense. The prosecutor isn’t required to make a deal, but they typically do, because they are too busy to go to trial on every single case. Roughly 1 out of every 25 clients ends up deciding to go to trial.
If police violated your constitutional rights, it may be possible to file a motion to have the evidence suppressed. If the crime you are charged with involves a victim who does not want the prosecution to continue, it may be possible to file a motion having the case dismissed. DO NOT TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS OR TALK TO VICTIMS. THIS COULD BE A VIOLATION OF THE RELEASE AGREEMENT YOU SIGNED, OR EVEN RESULT IN A NEW CRIME SUCH AS TAMPERING WITH A WITNESS. THIS IS WHY YOU HAVE AN ATTORNEY.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or contempt of court, you should have a date where you are required to show up to court with your attorney. If you don’t know that court date or are unsure, please call the office to check. If you are charged with a felony, you may or may not have a future court date, depending on whether you have been indicted (formally charged by the grand jury) for the crime. In all criminal cases, the first real court date after you ask for an attorney is called a status check. The judge will want to know at that time whether the case is likely to resolve, or whether you want to schedule a trial date. It is very important to meet with your attorney before this stage, but sometimes that ends up not happening. If we have to go to status check without a plan, we can ask the judge for more time to meet and make decisions. However, it is preferable to know what is happening in advance, so we do not waste your time, our time or the court’s time. In Douglas County, the judges like to wrap up cases within the first few months unless they are trial-bound. Trials typically are scheduled for a time 3 to 6 months after your arraignment date. It is important to be ready for trial by that first trial date, but keep in mind that courts are very busy and many times, a case will get bumped because the courtroom is double-booked, or someone with a more serious case had a trial scheduled for the same day and courtroom that you did.
Douglas County information
There are four criminal trial judges in Douglas County, Judge Francis Burge, room 303, Judge George Ambrosini, room 304, Judge Ann Marie Simmons, room 402, and Judge William Marshall, room 404. There is a presiding judge who normally does not do criminal cases, Judge Randy Garrison (with the exception of running mental health court), and a full-time referee (non-elected judge), Judge Luke Stanton, who handles juvenile matters and some criminal proceedings in room 401. Trials are always at 9:30. Typically, routine court appearances are set for Monday afternoons, with individual appearance dates set earlier in the morning during the week or just after lunch. You cannot bring cell phones into the courtroom. Court ends up being a lot of waiting and very little doing, so if you want to bring a book, it is probably a good idea.
Jail and work crew
You can reach the Douglas County Jail at 541-440-4440. If you end up going to jail, remember that EVERY SINGLE CALL is recorded. This includes the conversations with people who come and visit you (except your attorney). So do not talk about any ongoing criminal cases, or anything else that you wouldn’t say to a roomful of police officers. The jail does have a home monitoring program for people on house arrest. It requires that you have a job, a landline, and the ability to pay a daily supervision fee. Some crimes are not eligible for home monitoring, and the judge is not required to make you eligible even if you otherwise would be. Many minor crimes can be resolved with a work crew sentence instead of jail, or at least in combination with jail. You can reach the work crew office by calling the main jail number.