Question: Child Protective Services took my kids away, but their father got them back. When I was arrested, the media came over to my house to get the story. Now the Toledo Police Department has a case against me in court. I was appointed a public defender. Yesterday, I met with her and she told me that I have two options: I can go to trial or plead guilty. She advised me to plead guilty.

 

This is the first time that I have ever been arrested. My charges are higher because the police record shows that I was arrested 14 and 15 years ago in California with gun possession. It shows that I was convicted for that offense. However, I came into this country in July 2000 when I was 12 years old and never lived in California. So now I feel like I am being forced to plead guilty because those charges are adding more problems to my case. Even my attorney says that she doesn’t know what to do about it.

Answer: Lawyers are not required to know the answer to every legal question immediately upon being asked. If there is an area of the law with which they are unfamiliar, they can usually research the subject or ask a colleague for input in order to have accurate information to relay to the client. When you are read your Miranda rights, you are told that you have a right to a lawyer if you cannot afford one. This also means that you are entitled to a competent lawyer. If you believe that your lawyer does not recognize important legal issues to best advise you on how to proceed, you can ask the court to appoint another lawyer. You can also choose to hire a private lawyer who may be more knowledgeable about the various issues your case involves.

Immigration Issues

It is not clear in your question whether you are legally present in the United States or not. You stated that you moved into the country when you were 12 years old in July of 2000. If you are not legally present in the country, being convicted of a criminal offense could make you removable. It is important that you fully comprehend any immigration risks that are associated with a guilty plea before you make it. You may wish to discuss your case with a lawyer familiar with immigration issues.

Police Record Inaccuracies

If you believe that the information in your criminal record is inaccurate, you may be able to correct it. It may be inaccurate because someone has stolen your identity. If you entered the country illegally, your parents may have used someone else’s identity who later committed criminal offenses. Simple clerical errors can also cause inaccuracies in police records.

Since you say that the conviction was in California, you will need to contact the Department of justice of the State of California, an agency that is headed under the state Office of the Attorney General. First, you must request a copy of your official criminal record. After you receive it, you will likely need to submit a form in which you specifically detail information that you believe is inaccurate and why. You will also likely have to submit your fingerprints with this request. It is important that you understand any risks associated with using this strategy, such as more criminal records being uncovered that are associated with you. Consult an attorney before commencing this process.

If there is inaccurate information, the Office of the Attorney General may correct it and supply you with an amended form. You may also have to contact the law enforcement agency that provided the information. This may be a long process, and there is no guarantee that this problem would be solved before you would have to enter a guilty or not guilty plea.

Options

Ultimately, whether you decide to plead guilty or proceed to trial is your decision to make. A lawyer can help inform you of the risks, but he or she cannot generally override your decision. There are certain risks with proceeding to trial, such as facing the maximum punishment.

If you would like to plead guilty but you believe that you are not receiving a fair plea bargain due to the inaccuracies in your criminal record, your lawyer may be able to communicate the information about these inaccuracies. He or she may show the prosecutor that you are taking steps to resolve the discrepancy. A prosecutor often has discretion to offer a plea bargain in order to quickly resolve cases before trial.