On Why You Should Think Very Carefully Before Taking a Quick Deal on Your First Washington, DC Criminal Charge (Part One)
In Washington, DC, there is no shortage of people being charged with a crime. The fact is that criminal justice can't handle the huge volume. Years ago a law school professor described the criminal court process like trying to pour the liquid in a 55 gallon drum into a coffee cup. Most of it will spill out. And that spilling out means dismissed cases, plea bargains and diversions. It's good for the government and it's good for the court, but all I care about is if it's good for the client.
Let's look at a DC drug charge first. You are in a car with a friend and get pulled over for having an expired registration. The DC Metropolitan Police officer comes up to your car and tells you that your registration is expired and asks for your license. He goes back to his cruiser, runs your info through the warrant management system, finds nothing, and comes back to the car. "Is there anything in the car I should know about?" he asks. At this point, I would like to remind you of my earlier posts on the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination (a.k.a. the right to remain silent or "taking the nickel" as I like to call it). You don't need to tell the officer anything. Simply say "no." If the officer asks if he can search the car, say "no, I am not giving you consent to search me or my car." If he asks why, simple tell him that it is your right to say no and leave it at that. Do not get tricked into letting him do a consent search of you or your car when he had no probable cause. Many people admit to having drugs or guns and end up in the Central Cell Block (CCB) and eventually the DC Superior Court on a gun charge like carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL) or possession with intent to distribute (PWID) drugs.
If this is your first offense, the government will probably make a plea offer where they will not oppose probation. This seems good that you are basically guaranteeing you will not serve time in jail or prison. That may be appealing, and since a trial is always a risk, you take the deal. The problem is that while you didn't serve time, you are now a convicted felon. That has a lot of consequences. You may lose a job, be denied a security clearance, or lose public benefits such as EBT or welfare. You may be evicted from public housing. You may lose the right to vote. These are all collateral consequences of being a convicted felon, but the trouble doesn't end there.
In the next part of this post, I will discuss one of the most common collateral consequences to taking a guilty plea.