Criminal defendants always have the option to represent themselves. But you should consider hiring a criminal defense lawyer any time for any criminal charges that are more serious than a traffic infraction.

To decide whether you should hire a criminal defense lawyer, consider the risks of conviction. Conviction could include consequences that follow you for the rest of your life.

If you’re weighing the need for a criminal defense lawyer, here are some of the things that you should know.

What is a Misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors in Texas include offenses that could result in a jail sentence of up to one year. Felonies in Texas include offenses that could result in a jail or prison sentence that is longer than one year.

Texas categorizes misdemeanors into three classes based on the potential jail sentence:

  • Class A – up to one year in jail
  • Class B – up to 180 days in jail
  • Class C – no jail time

Judges can also impose fines for a misdemeanor; the fines range from $500 to $4,000.

What Are Some Examples of Misdemeanors?

Misdemeanors include a wide range of offenses against property, people, and public decency. 

Some examples include:

  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Reckless driving
  • Assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Violation of a protective order
  • Terroristic threat
  • Harassment
  • Criminal trespass
  • Resisting arrest
  • Marijuana possession
  • Weapons violations
  • Burglary
  • Shoplifting
  • Prostitution
  • Indecent exposure
  • Unlawful restraint

Prosecutors can charge some of these offenses as misdemeanors or felonies. For example, prosecutors can charge repeat offenders with felony DWI. Similarly, the severity of an assault charge depends on many factors, including the seriousness of a victim’s injuries and whether a weapon was used or not.

What Are the Consequences of Misdemeanor Convictions?

When you’re faced with misdemeanor charges and trying to decide whether to hire a criminal defense lawyer, you need to consider all of the consequences of a misdemeanor conviction. Potential consequences will depend heavily on your charges and the circumstances of your case, along with your goals for the case.

Your Goals

Your goals should play a major role in your decision. If you just want to plead guilty and serve your sentence, you probably do not need a criminal defense lawyer.

Just be aware that neither the judge nor the prosecutor will need to ensure that you committed the charged crime. Instead, the court only needs to determine that you understand the nature of your charges and the consequences of pleading guilty. The judge does not need to stop you from pleading guilty to a crime you did not commit.

If you want to fight the charges, you should consider hiring a lawyer. 

Aside from avoiding jail time, some reasons to fight charges include:

Plea Bargains

Some prosecutors overcharge defendants because they expect to enter into a plea bargain. For example, prosecutors could charge a defendant with a Class A misdemeanor so they can negotiate down to a Class B or C misdemeanor.

By hiring a criminal defense lawyer, you have someone to negotiate a plea bargain on your behalf. Your lawyer will understand whether the prosecutor can prove all the elements of the charged crime or not. Your lawyer will also understand the defenses that you might assert. These factors could influence a prosecutor to negotiate a plea bargain.

Pre-Trial Diversions

Texas has authorized county governments to develop pre-trial diversion programs as an alternative to prosecution. Both Denton County and Collin County have pre-trial diversion programs for people that are charged with misdemeanors.

A criminal defense lawyer can help you to identify and apply for pre-trial diversion programs. During the program, the prosecutor temporarily suspends your charges. When you complete the program, the prosecutor will dismiss your charges. 

Although your criminal history may show your arrest, you will have no conviction on your record when you complete a pre-trial diversion program.

Avoid a Criminal Record

A misdemeanor criminal record does not pose the same problems that a felony criminal record might pose. But a misdemeanor criminal record can derail careers in:

  • U.S. armed forces
  • Law enforcement
  • Education
  • Coaching

Additionally, some employers check for misdemeanors for certain positions, including cashiers, bank tellers, or other positions of trust.

If you have plans to enter a career that a misdemeanor conviction could derail, you should consider hiring a criminal defense lawyer. Beating the charges, pleading down to lesser charges, or entering a pre-trial diversion program can keep a misdemeanor arrest from turning into a criminal record.

Avoid the Sex Offender Registry

Texas’s sex offender registry law covers many sex crimes, including misdemeanors. Conviction of prostitution, indecent exposure, or unlawful restraint may require you to register as a sex offender.

Registration will pose significant obstacles to your life after conviction. Landlords can reject rental applications. Employers can deny employment. Your child’s school could deny you entry onto the school grounds. Even your neighbors will see your registration on the public registry.

A criminal defense lawyer can help you to defend against misdemeanor sex charges. A lawyer can also find a lesser crime to which you can plead guilty that will not impose a registration requirement.

Your Charges

Texas law does not impose any jail sentence for conviction of a Class C misdemeanor. A judge can impose a fine of up to $500, but they cannot impose a jail sentence. If you face Class C misdemeanor charges, you might prefer to simply plead guilty and pay your fine.

Class A and B misdemeanors can result in jail sentences. In addition to incarceration, with a Class A or B misdemeanor, you could be faced with job loss, eviction, or bankruptcy, since you cannot work while you serve your jail sentence.

The Facts of Your Case

Consulting a lawyer will help you to identify potential defenses to your charges. Generally, defense strategies include:

  • Negating elements of the crime
  • Proving mistaken identity
  • Asserting affirmative defenses, like self-defense

To defend yourself on the merits of your charges, you should consider hiring a lawyer. Criminal defense attorneys know the Texas penal code and have experience in the court system. This experience and knowledge will give a criminal lawyer unique insight into the defenses that work.

Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney for Misdemeanors

Most criminal defense lawyers will defend misdemeanor cases. They understand the serious consequences that can come from a misdemeanor conviction. Even 30 days in jail can alter your life forever. By hiring a criminal defense lawyer, you have someone who can provide advice and representation as you fight your charges.