The vast majority of the residents of this fine valley we call home are excellent and upstanding citizens. Nonetheless, for various reasons, many of us from time to time will receive a citation (or “ticket”) from the police for offenses ranging from minor driving violations to more serious crimes like trespassing or  DUI’s. Since experiences with the legal system are few and far between for most of us, the purpose of this column is to outline the process and possible outcomes of a citation or arrest.

The first thing that will happen with every citation or arrest is—of course—an interaction with police, either the Mesquite Police Department, Nevada Highway Patrol, or Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. Whichever department you come into contact with, remember that these men and women are people just like you, with homes, families, and children. Even if you feel like what is happening is unfair or the allegations untrue (or even if your constitutional rights are violated), make sure to be polite and courteous to the officer. That having been said, you have a constitutional right not to answer questions and, if you are arrested, to tell the police that you will not answer any questions without an attorney present. Finally, make sure you follow all instructions received from an officer and don’t do anything to escalate the encounter. Receiving a felony resisting arrest or assaulting a peace officer charge because you’re angry at a police officer is really, really foolish.

Next, if you’re arrested, you will need to make arrangements to pay the bail amount required for your release. Bail can either be paid with cash or credit card (which will be held by the court pending your trial) or through a bond company, which will post bail on your behalf in return for a non-refundable payment of a percentage of the total bond amount. You will receive an initial appearance date from the court, which is a date where your arraignment will be set. Arraignment is the time where you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty and (if you plead not guilty) you will receive a trial date. You should almost never plead guilty at your arraignment; if fact, for a person not represented by an attorney, judges will often decline to accept guilty pleas at arraignment.

Between your arraignment and trial date you will receive a packet of information from the prosecutor’s office with all the evidence he or she has regarding your case. Prior to your trial (often the day of trial) the prosecutor’s office will contact you and make an offer to resolve the case without a trial. Most misdemeanors in Nevada are punishable by six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Some offenses (like DUI’s and domestic violence) have other consequences like counseling and loss of license. Your case will almost certainly be resolved by a plea. A attorney can be critical during plea negotiations because he or she can evaluate the strength of your defenses and the evidence against you, argue the issues with the prosecutor, and negotiate a plea that is much more favorable than would otherwise be the case.

As you can see, the criminal justice system, although straightforward in many details, is actually fairly complex in operation. A competent attorney can be a critical aid in ensuring that your constitutional rights are protected and, if you are guilty of a crime, that the consequences are appropriate for the severity of the crime committed.