Unless you have been arrested before, finding yourself under arrest and charged with a criminal offense is typically a frightening experience. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor instead of a felony you are facing less severe potential penalties; however, a criminal conviction of any type is not something you want on your permanent record. One of the first questions you will likely have is “Do I need a Tennessee criminal defense lawyer for a misdemeanor?” The simple answer is “yes” because you are always better off with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side.
Felony vs. Misdemeanor Offenses
Like most states, the State of Tennessee divides criminal offenses into two broad categories – felonies and misdemeanors. Felony offenses are the more serious offenses, punishable by a year or more in prison along with higher potential fines. Tennessee designates felonies using letters, with a Class E felony being the least serious and a Class A felony the most serious offense. Misdemeanor offenses are punishable by a maximum of 11 months and 29 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500. Misdemeanors are also designated by letters, with a Class C misdemeanor being the least serious and a Class A the most serious. Some common misdemeanor offenses include a first-time DUI, possession of a small amount of marijuana, shoplifting, or first-time prostitution.
Non-Judicial Consequences of a Misdemeanor Conviction
The sentence handed down by a judge is only part of the consequences that stem from a criminal conviction. Often, the non-judicial consequences of a conviction are more detrimental than the judicial consequences, which is one of the reasons why you should not take a misdemeanor charge lightly. Some possible non-judicial consequences you might face as a result of a criminal conviction include:
- Lost employment opportunities
- Disciplinary action if you hold a professional license (doctor, attorney, real estate agent, C.P.A., etc.)
- Loss of driving privileges
- Disqualification for state and/or federal assistance programs
- Loss of eligibility for a change of status for foreign born nationals
- Interference with visitation or custody of minor children
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney
Do not make the mistake many people make of assuming that because the risk of going to jail is relatively low there is no need to retain the services of a criminal defense attorney when charged with a misdemeanor. Yes, the risk of being sentenced to serve time in jail is low; however, as you should now be able to see, there are other consequences of a criminal conviction that you likely do not want to face. Avoiding a conviction should be your primary goal and you are unlikely to achieve that goal without an experienced attorney on your side. There is no reason to accept a criminal conviction that could negatively impact your future for many years to come when you have a chance to avoid it.
Another important reason to hire a criminal defense attorney when facing misdemeanor charges is that the criminal justice system can be difficult to navigate under the best of conditions. Being accused of a crime, for most people, does not qualify as the “best of conditions.” There are a number of opportunities to go awry trying to navigate the system. Unfortunately, the system is rather unforgiving, even for those who are new to it. A missed court date, even if caused by a failure of the system to properly notify you, could result in a warrant for your arrest. Failing to file a document within the statutory time limits will likely mean you are forever barred from filing it – even if you were unaware of the time limit. Most important of all, don’t expect the prosecutor to give you a break because you are proceeding pro se, or without an attorney. On the contrary, many prosecuting attorneys will take full advantage of the fact that a defendant does not have an experienced criminal defense attorney on his/her side.
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor offense in the State of Tennessee it is in your best long-term interests to retain the services of an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney. The criminal defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby understand what is at stake and will protect you and your rights throughout the prosecution of your case. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.