Many people do not think of traffic offenses as a serious matter. The penalties for many offenses are more serious than you may think. For instance, driving without a license in Maryland carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense. In the District of Columbia, failure to display vehicle registration carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. This is exclusive of the damage done by higher insurance rates and points on your license for many offenses. If you show up without a lawyer, you may have to request a continuance to retain one or you may feel pressure to plead in order to avoid a stiff penalty. It is best to consult a lawyer before you go to court.
Sometimes pro se litigants (people who have gone to court by themselves) find themselves accused of contempt of court or violating a court order such as a peace order or order controlling conduct. Courts generally have broad discretion to address contempt of court. It is important that someone who is accused of violating a court order or contempt is represented by a competent attorney when they address these allegations in court.
While driving under the influence and related charges such as driving while impaired and operating while impaired are often considered traffic offenses, their proliferation in the last twenty years and common misconceptions about DUI cases warrant additional comment. First, the maximum penalty for a first offense conviction for driving under the influence in Maryland is one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. In the District of Columbia, a first offense DUI has a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Second, in the District of Columbia, even on a first offense DUI, if you are convicted of driving with a blood alcohol concentration over .20, the court must impose a sentence of at least 5 days in jail. Both jurisdictions have special provisions for people who reoffend. Fighting a DUI charge requires knowledge of the tests used to detect impairment, both scientific, such as blood and breath samples, as well as the standard field sobriety tests. Retaining an attorney who is familiar with the science and lack of peer reviewed science behind these tests is important in fighting a DUI charge.
In addition to the often severe penalties for drug possession and distribution, convictions for those crimes have lasting consequences that can affect an individual’s ability to work in many fields. In addition to fighting a drug charge or plea bargaining, in many cases, especially for first time offenders, diversion programs are available. In fighting a drug charge, it is important to have an attorney who understands issues relating to search and seizure as well as the investigative techniques of law enforcement. While many in the media make light of drug use and the war on drugs, actual drug charges are no laughing matter.
In the seminal case In re Gault, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that juveniles accused of committing crimes have a right to a hearing to determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether they committed those crimes. Unlike an adult criminal court, however, juveniles do not have the right to a jury. Hearings in juvenile court are conducted before a judge and, if a juvenile is found involved in the crime, the court then determines whether they are in need of rehabilitative services.
The list above is only representative and not an exhaustive list of the types of cases in which I represent people.