When you hire Michael T. Chulak & Associates, you hire a team of criminal defense attorneys who will carefully evaluate your case and then develop a strategy that will use every possible defense to assure the best possible result.

We will provide you with a discreet professional consultation as well as an evaluation of your case at no cost to you. Our fees are competitive and we accept all major credit cards. Please visit Attorney - Client Privilege.

Call us today and ask us to assemble our defense lawyers to protect your constitutional rights. Remember - You are not guilty unless the government can prove your guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.

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    Criminal Defense - State Crimes

    Q. What happens at my initial hearing in federal court?
       
    A. A felony is a serious criminal charge which is defined in terms of possible punishment. It is defined in the California Penal Code as "any crime that is punishable by death or by imprisonment in state prison." In most cases, a felony prosecution starts with an arrest. Written police reports are presented to the District Attorney's Office which then decides what charges, if any, should be filed and whether those charges will be felonies or misdemeanors (which are less serious crimes punishable by no more than a year in county jail and/or a possible fine).

    Felony charges may also be filed even though there has not been an arrest. For example, the police may conduct an investigation of a crime and identify a suspect. Rather than arresting that person, the police may present their investigation to the District Attorney, who may file charges with a court and get an arrest warrant. The District Attorney may also present evidence to the Grand Jury, which has the power to charge a person with a felony.

    The first step in the criminal court process is called an arraignment. Usually, this is the first time the defendant appears in court. He or she is informed of the charges, and is offered legal representation if he or she cannot afford to hire a private attorney. The defendant then enters a plea of guilty or not guilty.

    The preliminary hearing is the court proceeding at which the District Attorney's Office must present enough evidence to convince a judge that there is reasonable cause to believe a crime has been committed -- and that the accused is the person who committed the crime.

    This hearing is not heard by a jury, and at this point in the criminal process, the prosecution's case does not have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The primary purpose of the preliminary hearing is to eliminate charges that are obviously groundless. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution may use police officers to present the statements of victims and witnesses to demonstrate to the judge that there is enough evidence to justify sending the case to a court for trial. The vast majority of defendants are "held to answer" after the preliminary hearing.

    Understandably, this can be terribly frustrating for a client who wants to "fight" aggressively to win his case early, rather than later. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, nor wise. However, it is always important to remember that delay in a court case does not mean defeat. Effective and thorough legal defense takes time to prepare.

    The case then moves to a trial court where the defendant is once again arraigned; however, this time a trial date is set. Generally speaking, the trial has to occur within 60 days from the date of this new arraignment, although felony cases frequently require more time so that the defense can conduct a complete, independent investigation, interview witnesses, consult with expert witnesses, and evaluate all evidence presented by the District Attorney.

    The defense attorney may also make various motions in order to get the case dismissed on legal grounds, such as a motion to get certain evidence excluded because the police acted improperly when seizing this evidence, or a motion to dismiss because the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing was not strong enough to warrant a trial. The defense might also make motions to force the District Attorney or the police to disclose other pieces of evidence which could prove that the client is not guilty of the charge.

    While the case is ongoing, the defendant may decide he or she does not want to go to trial but wants to settle the matter. Just as often, a District Attorney might offer the defendant a case settlement, referred to as a "plea bargain," to plead guilty to a less serious charge or agree to ask for reduced incarceration time at sentencing.

    Settlement may occur at any time, from the first court appearance at the initial arraignment up to, and even during, trial. Case settlement usually involves the defendant pleading "guilty" or "no contest" for an agreed sentence or to an agreed-upon charge.

    Another kind of "settlement" may be possible in certain felony cases involving non-violent drug offenses. Individuals who have been charged with first-time drug offenses, as well as certain defendants who suffer from the disease of drug addiction may be eligible to attend classes or other rehabilitation programs. If they successfully complete all required programs, they can have their case dismissed in a process which is known as "Deferred Entry of Judgment" -- commonly referred to as DEJ or drug diversion. Still other defendants who commit non-violent drug possession offenses may be eligible for sentencing according to the Proposition 36, which generally favors long-term drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration. DEJ is available only upon a plea of "guilty," whereas Proposition 36 sentencing is available upon conviction -- whether a defendant pleaded guilty or was found guilty after a trial.

    An adult criminal defendant has the right to a trial by jury. This is where 12 jurors, who are called "the finders of fact," listen to all the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense and decide what is proved and what is not. The judge's job at a jury trial is to make sure that both the prosecution and the defense adhere to all the rules of evidence when presenting their case to the jury.

    At trial, the prosecution must prove the client's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. All 12 jurors must agree in order to either convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared by the court, and the case may be tried again before a different jury, it may be dismissed, or a case settlement may be agreed upon by the prosecution and the defense.

    A defendant can also decide to have a judge hear the case, instead of a jury; this is called a "court trial." For this to happen, the prosecution must also agree. In a court trial, the prosecution must still prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but this time, the judge is the "finder of fact" and must decide whether or not the defendant is guilty, while also making certain that both attorneys are abiding by all the rules of evidence.

    If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will then impose a sentence. The possible range of sentence, which is set by various laws, may range from no jail and probation, to imprisonment in the state prison. Sentencing can be a very complex process, depending on the severity of the crime for which the defendant has been convicted.

    In the most serious of cases, referred to as special circumstance prosecutions, the defendant faces a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or even the death penalty. If a defendant has been convicted of such an offense, then there is a separate proceeding, called a penalty phase, at which both sides present evidence either in aggravation or mitigation of penalty. The jury determines the appropriate penalty. If the jury determines that the defendant should be executed, the judge still has the power to overrule that determination and to sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. However, if the jury agrees that life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment, the judge does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

    Defendants who have been convicted after a trial have the right to appeal their conviction. This process is started by the trial attorney who, upon request of the client, will file a notice of appeal in the trial court within 60 days of the imposition of sentence.

    Criminal Defense - State Crimes Continued



    Federal Crimes - Frequently Asked Questions

    Q. What happens at my initial hearing in federal court?
       
    A. You will come to the federal court either by a summons or in the custody of federal law enforcement agents. The charges against you will be written in a criminal complaint or indictment accompanied by an affidavit that summarizes the evidence against you.

    There are no District Attorney's or "DAs" in federal court. The prosecutor appearing for the government is called an "Assistant United States Attorney" or "AUSA."

    If you are seeking the assistance of a Deputy Federal Public Defender at the court's expense, you must first complete a financial affidavit of your income and expenses to submit under penalty of perjury to a United States Magistrate Judge. The magistrate judge will determine whether you have sufficient assets to hire your own counsel. If the judge determines you cannot afford the fees that a private attorney would charge in a case like yours, the judge will appoint an attorney to represent you. If you have sufficient funds, the judge may continue your case for a reasonable time so that you can find and retain your own attorney.

    Your first two or three appearances will be in front of a federal magistrate judge, but ultimately your case will be heard by a federal district court judge. The magistrate judge will advise you of the charges against you, explain your rights, and tell you the longest amount of prison time that a defendant found guilty of your charge could possibly receive. This sentence is called the "statutory maximum," and it is rarely the actual sentence that is given.

    The magistrate will then turn to the issue of pretrial release or bail. You will be remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the conclusion of their first hearing unless you are released.
       
    Q. What is a detention hearing?
       
    A. The detention hearing is a proceeding in federal court where a federal magistrate judge decides whether or not to release a defendant on bond to await the trial.
       
    Q. What is arraignment?
       
    A. An arraignment is a court proceeding in which a defendant is brought into court, told of the charges in an indictment or information, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
       

     

    Federal Crimes Pretrial Procedures

    Q. Federal agents want to talk to me. What should I do?
       
    A. If you think you might be the subject of a federal investigation, you should contact a criminal defense attorney before speaking with law enforcement agents or their representatives. You have a constitutional right to an attorney's advice and counsel in any conversation with law enforcement agents. Your attorney should arrange all meetings or telephone contact with them. Even if you do not have an attorney, remind law enforcement representatives that you wish to have an attorney present.

    If you cannot afford an attorney, you should contact the Federal Public Defender's Office. A Deputy Federal Public Defender (DFPD) will have you complete a financial affidavit to determine your inability to pay for an attorney. This affidavit will accompany your request asking the court to provide you an attorney at the court's cost.

    If you believe you are only a witness in a federal investigation, you can speak to law enforcement representatives without an attorney if you want. However, you still have the option and a right to refuse to speak with law enforcement after you have properly identified yourself to them.
       
    Q. I was served with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury. What do I do?
       
    A. It is important to determine whether you are the subject of the grand jury investigation or just a witness providing evidence. The "subject" or "target" is anybody who the government might charge with a crime as a result of the grand jury proceedings. Check the subpoena or your letter from the U.S. Attorney to see whether that office considers you a "subject" or "target" of the investigation. If you are the "subject" or "target" and even if you are uncertain but suspect you might be the "subject" or "target" of the grand jury investigation, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.

    You should not negotiate with the U. S. Attorneys by yourself. Have your defense attorney call the U. S. Attorney's Office to identify the government's interest in you. A criminal defense attorney can protect important rights for you, including your right against self incrimination, and may be able to successfully negotiate immunity in exchange for your testimony.

    If you cannot afford an attorney, you should contact the Federal Public Defender's Office. A Deputy Federal Public Defender (DFPD) will have you complete a financial affidavit to determine your inability to pay for an attorney. This affidavit will accompany your request asking the court to provide you an attorney at the court's cost.
       

    Federal Crimes Pretrial Procedures - Continued

     

    Federal Crimes - Sentencing FAQ

    Q. What are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
       
    A. Federal sentencing guidelines were established by Congress in 1987 to create uniform sentences for similar crimes across the country. Unlike mandatory minimum sentencing laws which can eliminate judicial discretion, the guidelines require a sentencing judge to consider various facts about the specific crime and defendant to justify a sentence within the guidelines. Judicial consideration of these facts lead to a "guideline range," for example: 18 to 24 months. Mandatory minimums are "one-size-fits-all," but the guidelines allow for upward or downward departures in unusual cases.

    Unfortunately, mandatory sentencing laws supersede or "trump" the sentencing guidelines, so judges first must determine if a defendant has been convicted of a crime which triggers a mandatory minimum penalty. If so, the mandatory minimum sentence must be imposed regardless of the sentencing guidelines recommendation. Current federal sentencing guideline tables can be found at the U.S. Sentencing Commission's website.

    There are only two ways to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. First, a defendant can provide "substantial assistance" to the government by turning in other defendants. Second, a defendant in a drug case only can qualify as a "safety valve" defendant. Congress created the "safety valve" in 1994 to address excessive sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Congress created the "safety valve" in 1994 to address excessive sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. It is very difficult to qualify as a "safety valve" defendant, and thousands of nonviolent drug defendants are still sent to prison for decades under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. But a low-level, nonviolent offender who qualifies for the "safety valve" can be sentenced at the judge's discretion under the sentencing guidelines instead of mandatory minimum laws. You qualify for a "safety valve" only if your "criminal history category" is a Category I under the sentencing guidelines, you did not threaten violence or possess a gun, your offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury; you were not a leader in the offense; and you agree to provide the prosecutor with all the information and evidence you have concerning the offense and related offenses.
       

    Federal Crimes - Sentencing FAQ Continued


     



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    Santa Barbara County: 

    Ballard, Buellton, Carpinteria, Gaviota, Goleta, Guadalupe, Hollister Ranch, Hope Ranch, Isla Vista, Lompoc, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Mission Canyon, Mission Hills, Montecito, Orcutt, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Summerland, Toro Canyon
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