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Your Portland Criminal Case: The Basics

You and your buddies have spent all day on Distillery Row sampling handcrafted, local microbrews, pre-Prohibition gin and something called "Cherry Bomb Whiskey." You try to soak up the booze with some Voodoo Donuts. Feeling invincible, you grab the keys to your car and start driving on the Morrison Bridge. Then, you look down at your phone failing to notice the traffic ahead. BAM! You just hit the car in front of you.

Next thing you know, police and paramedics are everywhere and you've been arrested. You are likely scared and confused about what will happen next.

Arrests can happen in countless situations, and it is difficult to know exactly what will happen. However, this article can give you general information about what to expect from the criminal justice system in many of the most typical cases if you are arrested in "Portlandia."

The Arrest

Your arrest marks the beginning of your entrance into the Oregon criminal justice system. At this point, you'll have contact with either the Portland Police Bureau, the Oregon State Police, or the Multnomah County Sheriff.

There are several rules that the police must follow or risk jeopardizing the case against you later. You should know and understand your Miranda rights. You're probably familiar with the words "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney.  If you cannot afford one..." Before police interrogate you, they should read you your rights.

After an arrest, the police have two options: take you to jail for booking or release you with a promise to appear at a later date. If you're taken into custody, you'll likely become one of the residents of the Multnomah County Detention Center.

If you want to go home, you'll either be released on your own recognizance or you'll have to post bail. You must pay bail in order to be released from jail pending trial. The amount you need to pay to get out is usually 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case. It probably should come as no surprise that the amount of bail increases based on factors such as: 1) the seriousness of the crime; and 2) your criminal history.

Arraignment

Next, you'll be arraigned at one of the Portland Courthouses. Going before a judge may be very intimidating, especially if this is your first offense. The judge will officially read the charges against you and may readjust your bail. You'll also enter a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will have the option of hiring a lawyer, representing yourself, or asking for a public defender.

What happens next depends on whether you are accused of committing an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.

Infraction

Don't expect handcuffs or drug-sniffing K-9s, in most cases. An infraction is a minor offense and includes traffic, wildlife, boating, and littering violations. The officer will issue you a citation requiring you to appear in court. If convicted, you can't be sentenced to jail - a fine is the maximum punishment allowed. You may challenge your ticket or plead guilty to the charges. In some instances, you can simply pay the fine online or by mail.

Misdemeanor Cases

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, but take note, a conviction or guilty plea can have consequences on your career, your educational opportunities, and your freedom. If you are a non-citizen, a misdemeanor can impact your immigration status.

Misdemeanors range in seriousness from Class A being the most serious to Class B and Class C, which are less serious. Common Oregon misdemeanors include minor drug possession, petty theft, assault and/or battery, resisting arrest, certain traffic offenses such a hit-and-run, threats, some domestic violence, and driving under the influence (DUI) offenses.

If you go to trial, twelve members of the community who are randomly selected will decide your guilt or innocence. If the jury finds you not guilty, the case ends and you may go free. If you're convicted, the judge will impose a sentence in your case ranging from a small fine, to probation, to an active jail sentence.

The maximum punishment you'll receive if convicted for a misdemeanor is up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of up to $6250. Some crimes carry additional penalties such mandatory counseling or substance abuse classes.

Felony Cases

Felonies are serious crimes that can carry huge penalties including years of prison time, large fines, and major repercussions for your life outside of prison. Typical felonies include robbery, murder, rape, or possession of illegal drugs for sale. If you are accused of a felony, it is often strongly recommended to retain the services of a qualified criminal defense attorney who can advise you on the many considerations and next steps you'll be facing.

Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury

If your case doesn't resolve before trial, you'll have either a preliminary hearing or a grand jury hearing. If your case goes to a preliminary hearing, a judge will hear the evidence and determine if there's probable cause to believe you have committed the offense. If the judge "holds you to answer" for the charges, she'll set a trial date and you'll be arraigned again. If it's a grand jury, five out of seven members of the panel must believe sufficient evidence is present in order to return an indictment (formal charge) to the court.

Pretrial Conference

The next stage in a felony is the pretrial conference. The prosecutor and defense attorney meet in the judge's chambers to discuss your case and sometimes enter a plea bargain. A pretrial conference gives your attorney an opportunity to gather information from the prosecution, explore that evidence, and possibly resolve your case without a trial.

Trial

If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You automatically have the right to a jury trial where twelve randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.

Criminal cases can have a serious, lasting impact on your life. You have options and rights. If the State does not have sufficient evidence to prove that you committed an offense, you may be entitled to a dismissal or a reduction in your charge. Similarly, if the State violated your civil rights during the investigation or prosecution of your case, a judge may suppress certain evidence, meaning the State can't use the evidence against you at trial. Anyone charged with an offense should at least consider consulting a skilled attorney.

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