1. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY.
The first thing you need to do is to contact an experienced defense attorney. It is NEVER too early to do so. If you have been appointed an attorney by the court, contact your attorney right away.
2. REMAIN SILENT.
Under the Oregon and US Constitutions, you have the right to remain silent and to not answer questions that might incriminate you. Generally speaking, it is rarely in your interest to give any statement whatsoever to the police. You do NOT have to wait until the police read you your "rights" to remain silent. You can revoke your right to remain silent immediately.
If you are being investigated for a crime or have already been charged, most of the time the police want to question you to obtain an admission from you or some other statement that will help them prove their case against you. Every single thing you say will be included in a police report and can and will be used against you in court. In the hundreds of police reports I've read, the vast majority of the time the person charged gets him/herself in more trouble by trying to explain what happened. At the time the police attempt to talk to you, they either do not have enough evidence to arrest you (and are hoping to obtain it through something you say), or they already have the evidence they need and are going to arrest you anyway, regardless of what you say.
If the police ask you questions, DO NOT LIE - SIMPLY DO NOT ANSWER THEM. Say "I will not answer any questions and wish to talk to an attorney." Good police officers will honor that, but some will still try to convince you to talk by saying things like "If you're innocent, surely it wouldn't hurt to talk." DO NOT CHANGE YOUR MIND -- stick to your decision to remain silent. Of course, if, after consulting with an attorney, you both determine it would be in your best interest to talk to the police, then you can do so at that time.
3. DO NOT TALK TO FAMILY, PARENTS, FRIENDS, PEOPLE IN JAIL, OR ANYONE ELSE ABOUT THE MATTER.
Just as anything you say to police can be used against you, so can anything you say to anyone else, including a spouse if you are accused of domestic violence. When in doubt: do NOT talk. Do not put your friends or family in a situation where they might have to testify against you. Of course, you can talk with them about your next court date, who your attorney is, and things of that nature, but do not talk to anyone about the facts of your case.
There are many different ways you will be informed as to when you will appear in court:
(1) You might be arrested immediately by the police and told that you will not be released unless you post bail or have to appear before a judge to determine whether you will be released without having to post bail (otherwise referred to as "security.") If you remain in jail, your first court appearance must be within 36 hours of your arrest, excluding holidays and weekends.
(2) You might be arrested, but then released almost immediately and given a court date by the police officer on a release agreement or citation telling you when to appear. You should read your citation carefully to make sure you go to the RIGHT courthouse (either a municipal or Circuit Court) and at the right time. ARRIVE EARLY. If you do NOT go to court on the day and time you are required to, you probably will be charged with a separate crime called "failure to appear," which will likely result in jail time. It will also make your original case much more difficult to defend. So it is in your interest to take your court appearances very seriously.
(3) The police officer might just give you a citation telling you when to appear in court, without arresting you at all. Please see (2) above.
(4) The police officer does none of the above, and instead says that s/he will submit his police report to the D.A.'s Office for consideration. That means that the DA's Office will review the matter and decide whether to charge you. If they decide to do so, a "warrant of arrest" will be issued for you to bring you to court. You will then be arrested on the warrant. Sometimes the police might notify you and request that you turn yourself in immediately.
Question: If my situation involves #4, how long does the State have to decide whether to charge me? Answer: Unfortunately, quite a long time. This is called the "statute of limitations ("SOL")." The general guidelines are:
For a violation, six months.
For a misdemeanor, two years.
For a felony, three years.
There are many exceptions to these rules. See ORS 131.125. For example:
For murder or attempted murder, etc, there is no statute of limitations. That means, the State can bring a murder charge at any time, no matter how many years have gone by.
For serious sex crimes (e.g., rape), the State must bring the charge within 6 years after the commission of the crime, or if the alleged victim was under 18, anytime before the alleged victim turns 30 or within 12 years after the offense was reported to the police or DHS (Department of Human Services), whichever occurs first.
For less serious sex crimes, the SOL is 4 years, or if the alleged victim was under 18, anytime before the alleged victim turns 22, or within 4 years after the offense was reported to the police or DHS.
The SOL for arson is 6 years.
Can I just hide or leave Oregon until the SOL runs out? No. The SOL is "tolled" during that time, which means that time does not count. However, the time cannot be tolled more than three years. See ORS 131.145 and ORS 131.155.
What happens if a court issues a warrant and then does nothing to execute that warrant for a long time? You might have a defense. A warrant should ge executed "without unreasonable delay."
Your first court appearance is called an "ARRAIGNMENT." At that time, the court clerk will hand you (or your attorney, if you have one) a paper called a "D.A.'s Information" or a "Complaint" which will inform you what you are being charged with.
The judge will then inform you of your rights, including the following: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be used against you. You have the right to have an attorney appointed to you if you cannot afford one. You have the right to a jury trial where the State is required to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, etc.
The judge will then tell you what you are being charged with and will tell you the MAXIMUM sentence possible for each crime. Do NOT have a heart attack at this stage -- seriously! Remember, the judge is telling you what the worst possible sentence is for each crime, not what you will actually be sentenced to. Often, it is MUCH less.
Criminal offenses can be a violation, a misdemeanor, or a felony.
If you are charged with a violation, the worst possible sentence you can get is a fine.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, misdemeanors are broken down into three categories.
-With a Class A Misdemeanor (the most serious misdemeanor), the maximum jail sentence is one year in jail and the maximum fine is $6,250.
-With a Class B Misdemeanor, you could get 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
-With a Class C, it's 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine.
Felonies are also broken down into three categories, with A Felonies being the most serious. The judge will tell you, if you are charged with a Class A Felony, that the maximum jail sentence is
The judge will then ask you questions, such as:
-Are your name and date of birth on the document correct? Your name will appear on the first page, in the caption that reads "State vs. _______," with your dob after your name. Look at it and inform the judge of any errors. Under Oregon law, if the document does not have your real name, you must declare your "true name." If you fail to do so, you will not be released from jail unless you post a substantial amount of security (i.e., bail) and there could be other serious consequences. Your "true name" is the name on your birth certificate OR your birth name OR if your name has been changed by court order or operation of law, then your name as changed. If you do not have a birth certificate for some reason, then the court will ask you under oath or affirmation what your true name is.
-Do you want me to read this document to you or do you "waive" reading? This means, do you need for the judge to read you the document out loud to you right then and there, or would you prefer to read it by yourself at a later time? Most people prefer the latter.
-Do you understand your rights or do you wish me to explain them further? Do NOT take this as an invitation to explain to the judge what happened. NOW is not the time. Everything you say will be recorded and anything incriminating will be written down by the D.A.'s Office.
-What do you intend to do about an attorney? If you cannot afford an attorney, you should inform the judge that you wish to apply for a court-appointed attorney. (Please refer to the page entitled "COURT-APPOINTED ATTORNEY" if you wish to know more about obtaining one.) If you can afford one, tell the judge you plan on "retaining" or hiring an attorney, if that is your intent. The judge might then ask you who your attorney might be.
In some counties, at the arraignment you will be asked How Do you Plead to the Charge? You should say NOT GUILTY. It is not in your interest to plead guilty at this first appearance! In fact, with felonies, under no circumstances can the judge accept a guilty plea at arraignment. ORS 135.380(2). If the judge does not ask you this question, do not worry - you will be considered to have entered a plea of not guilty. ORS 135.380(2).
You will then be given another court date. If you have been charged with a felony, then the court will set another court date called a "preliminary hearing," but what is really is, is an "arraignment on an Indictment." If you are in custody, this hearing must be held within 5 days. If you are not in custody, it must be held within 30 days of your first court appearance. Both of these time periods can be extended "for good cause shown."
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, then the court will generally set another court date called various names by different counties, but its purpose is to just check on the status of the case.
If you are in custody at this first appearance, the judge will make a determination whether or not to release you. Please see the page entitled "RELEASE" for more information on this topic. If you are out of custody, the judge will determine whether to continue your release. If you have not been booked, you will need to go through the booking process, which includes having your photograph and fingerprints taken.
An Indictment is only pertinent to felonies, not misdemeanors. Being charged with a felony is a serious matter, and there is a check on the D.A.'s power to charge felonies. A "D.A.'s Information" charging a felony at the first arraignment only starts the criminal proceedings, but the criminal matter cannot be continued without the D.A. taking an additional step. It must present the matter to a "grand jury" for an objective determination as to whether or not there is sufficient evidence to proceed. Specifically, the D.A.'s Office must present its case to a grand jury and request it to issue an "Indictment," which will give it authority to proceed with felony charges.
An Indictment is an official document, signed by a grand jury, that informs a defendant that he is being charged with a felony. It serves as the basis for prosecution. It should include a "statement of the acts constituting the offense in ordinary and concise language, without repetition, and in such manner as to enable a person of common understanding to know what is intended." ORS 132.550(7).
What is a Grand Jury? A "grand jury" is a group of 7 people drawn from the local jury pool chosen at random. They are charged with "diligently" inquiring into all crimes against Oregon committed or triable within the county that comes to its knowledge and each grand juror must "keep secret" the proceedings before it. When a witness is being questioned, only that witness and a representative from the D.A.'s Office can can be present. There are certain exceptions, such as when an interpreter or parent/guardian is necessary. Most noteably, unfortunately, the defendant and defense counsel have no right to be present.
What is the Procedure? Grand jury proceedings are conducted in a private room at the courthouse, typically close to the D.A.'s Office. The District Attorney's Office submits a proposed Indictment to the grand jury for its consideration, typically asks questions of the witnesses in front of the grand jury, and advises the Grand Jury what its duties are.
What evidence does the grand jury consider? With certain exceptions, it may consider only that evidence which may be given at a trial of the matter. ORS 132.320. That means, for example, that it should not consider hearsay (when one witness testifies what another person said, unless it involves what the suspect said, which is generally admissible).
Does it consider evidence helpful to the defendant? ORS 132.320(9) "The grand jury is not bound to hear evidence for the defendant, but it shall weigh all the evidence submitted to it; and when it believes that other evidence within its reach will explain away the charge, it should order such evidence to be produced, and for that purpose may require the district attorney to issue process for the witnesses."
What is required for an Indictment? Five of the seven grand jurors must agree to indict a person. The grand jury may find an indictment "when all the evidence before it, taken together, is such as in its judgment would, if unexplained or uncontradicted, warrant a conviction by the trial jury." ORS 132.390. If the decide to indict, the grand jury foreman signs the Indictment and notes it is a "true bill." If they decide not to indict, they sign the indictment as "NOT a true bill."
How do I know when the grand jury is meeting? You won't. The proceedings are considered confidential until a determination has been made by the grand jury whether or not to indict.