Personal Injury and Criminal Defense FAQ

What if the car accident was partially my fault? When do I have a legitimate premises liability claim? What is the first step I need to take after a dog bite? We answer questions like these and many more on our personal injury Frequently Asked Questions page.

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  • What is "Safety Valve" in Federal Sentencing?

    Drug Free Zone Sign

    What is "Safety Valve" in Federal Sentencing?

    In short, "safety valve" allows a federal criminal defendant charged with certain drug offenses to be sentenced below a minimum mandatory if the requirements of the statute are met. It is one of the only ways, short of providing cooperation with the federal government, that a defendant can avoid the often life shattering minimum mandatories in the federal system

    18 U.S.C. §§ 3553(f)(1-5) states notwithstanding any other provision of law, in the case of an offense under section 401, 404, or 406 of the Controlled Substances Act or section 1010 or 1013 of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act, the court shall impose a sentence pursuant to guidelines promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission under section 994 of title 28 without regard to any statutory minimum sentence, if the court finds at sentencing that:

    • the defendant does not have more than 1 criminal history point, as determined under the sentencing guidelines, §3553(f)(1);
    • the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce another participant to do so) in connection with the offense, §3553(f)(2);
    • the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person, §3553(f)(3);
    • the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines and was not engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise, as defined in section 408 of the Controlled Substances Act, §3553(f)(4); and
    • not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant has truthfully provided to the Government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan, but the fact that the defendant has no relevant or useful other information to provide or that the Government is already aware of the information shall not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied with this requirement, §3553(f)(5).​

    ​If You Have Any Questions Regarding Federal Criminal Defense

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.


  • Should I Do Field Sobriety Exercises?

    Guy Balancing At Top Of Very Tall Ladder

    Should I Do Field Sobriety Exercises?

    I know your looking for a simple yes or no, a definite "always refuse fields and always refuse breath test". However, I don't believe that anything in law is definite. There may be a time when giving a breath sample is the smart play, or talking to an officer (with an attorney present) is the right move and there may be a time when performing the ridiculous field sobriety exercises (FSEs) is a good thing. 

    You are not required in Florida to perform FSE!  

    Unlike refusing to provide a blood, breath or urine sample, you will not have your drivers license suspended if you refuse to perform the FSEs. The choice is yours.

    Before you make any decision, you should understand what the officer will be looking for and what information will be provided to the jury in your trial. For starters, if you refuse to perform FSEs, the State will disclose your refusal to the jury.

    Below are a few of the most common FSEs, in addition, click the link to view a sample field sobriety report written up. You can see the different items the officer is looking for and what they believe to be relevant to proving you are intoxicated. 

    HGN Testing

    The horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN) is often the first field sobriety test administered. You have probably seen this test before, where the officer holds a pen up straight and request the person to follow the pen with their eyes as the officer moves it side to side and up and down. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball that occurs when there is a disturbance of the vestibular (inner ear) system or the oculomotor control of the eye. Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) refers to a lateral or horizontal jerking when the eye gazes to the side. In the impaired driving context, alcohol consumption or consumption of certain other central nervous system depressants, inhalants or phencyclidine, hinders the ability of the brain to correctly control eye muscles and may cause the jerk or bounce associated with HGN. As the degree of impairment becomes greater, the jerking or bouncing, i.e. the nystagmus, becomes more pronounced. This is assessed in the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. 

    The Walk and Turn

    You stand in a heel-to-toe fashion with arms at the sides while a series of instructions are given. Then, the suspect must take nine heel-to-toe steps along a line, turn in a prescribed manner, and take another nine heel-to-toe steps along the line. All of this must be done while counting the steps aloud and keeping the arms at the sides. You should not stop walking until the test is completed. 

    One Leg Stand

    This exercise requires you to stand on one leg. The other leg is to be extended in front of the suspect in a stiff-leg manner, with the foot held approximately six inches above and parralel with the ground. The suspect is to stare at the elevated foot, and count aloud until told to stop, in this fashion "one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three..." 

    You can see from the sample field sobriety report the officer is looking at a number of things, including balance and the ability to follow directions. These exercises are not set up for someone to "pass". Each of the checks or comments of things done incorrectly are supposed to be "indicators of intoxication". As you can see, there are no checks for things that are done correctly, the only options on the report are for "indicators of intoxication", things done wrong. This one sided report is an obvious danger to anyone performing FSEs.

    Things to consider if you are pulled over and asked to do FSEs:

    • Be very clear about any injuries you may have that would hinder your ability to perform FSEs, including any issues with balance, hearing or vision. 
    • Always be polite. You can see on the bottom of page one of the sample, there are several boxes for an officer to check regarding Attitude. It is a tremendous help during trial when I can refer this section and have the officer say you were polite and cooperative. 
    • Ask if the FSEs are going to be videotaped. Videos can be very important in a DUI, because so much of the evidence against a defendant is based upon a police officers observations. As you can imagine sometimes these observations are a bit exaggerated. I had a DUI trial recently where the Arrest and Booking Report described a young woman as off balance, not being able to stand still, not "passing" any of the field sobriety exercises and very clearly trying to paint the picture of a drunk young woman. Upon viewing the video, nothing could have been further from the truth. The video showed a young woman being polite, following all directions and completing all the field exercises (while in high heels) as instructed. Her balance was impeccable. During the trial, the officer kept referring to the "indicators of intoxication" he observed. On cross examination, I slowly went through the entire video with him, having him admit to every positive thing this young woman did and the jury came back in 8 minutes with a not guilty verdict. If we did not have that video, the officer's testimony would have had more credibility and the innocent young woman could have been found guilty. 
    • You are not required to do FSEs, however, your refusal can be used against you at trial. 

    If you have been arrested for a DUI and You Have Questions About Your Case

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

  • Can I Sue the City of Jacksonville or the Sheriff's Office?

    Can I Sue the City of Jacksonville or the Sheriff's Office?

    Yes, but it depends. An often spoken phrase by lawyers, caused probably by the fact that we spend so much of our time arguing over exactly what a law or rule may mean. Below I will try to explain the basics of a tort claim against the City of Jacksonville and/or the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. If you have any further questions please feel free to call me. 

    Ok, so why does it "depend"? 

    Because our government agencies are provided sovereign immunity.

    What is sovereign immunity and what is its purpose?

    Sovereign immunity prohibits/restricts tort suits against the government; the government cannot be sued without its consent. 

    Reasons for sovereign immunity:

    • Separation of powers
      • Government affairs must be protected from interference by courts and plaintiffs. 
      • Separation of powers concerns prohibits the judicial branch from interfering with the discretionary functions of the legislative or executive branch absent a violation or constitutional or statutory right.
    • Protects the discretion of governmental authorities in decision-making. 
      • Government administration would be disrupted if the state could be sued at the instance of every citizen. 
      • Governmental decision-making requires flexibility and discretion. 
    • Regulates the fiscal impact of tort damage awards on the public treasury.

    Sounds like that's a wrap, can't sue the City, your out of luck. But of course "it depends". Fortunately, the Florida Constitution specifically provides the legislature the power to pass laws providing for a waiver of sovereign immunity. 

    Article X, Section 13 of the Florida Constitution states; "Provision may be made by general law for bringing suit against the state as to all liabilities now existing or hereafter originating."

    The Florida legislature passed Section 768.28, F.S., allowing for a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. The statutes begins by stating:

    In accordance with s. 13, Art. X of the State Constitution, the state, for itself and for its agencies or subdivisions, hereby waives sovereign immunity for liability for torts, but only to the extent specified in this act. Actions at law against the state or any of its agencies or subdivisions to recover damages in tort for money damages against the state or its agencies or subdivisions for injury or loss of property, personal injury, or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the agency or subdivision while acting within the scope of the employee’s office or employment under circumstances in which the state or such agency or subdivision, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant, in accordance with the general laws of this state, may be prosecuted subject to the limitations specified in this act. 

    So what can the City of Jacksonville be sued for?

    • To recover damages in tort for money damages against the state or its agencies or subdivisions.
    • For injury or loss of property, personal injury, or death.
    • Caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the agency or subdivision.
    • While acting within the scope of the employee’s office or employment.

    Claims can be for a number of reasons, including wrongful arrest, personal injury or wrongful death. 

    Now again, these are just the basics, there are always questions as to who or what qualifies as an agency or subdivision of the state, what is "within the scope of the employee’s office or employment", is the particular individual (employee) liable and numerous other issues. This is why it is recommended to speak to an attorney if you believe you have a case against the City of Jacksonville or the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. 

    Please follow up and read my post "4 Need to Know Rules Before You Sue The City of Jacksonville."

    If You Have Questions About a Claim Against a City or the State of Florida

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

  • Penalties for a DUI in Florida

    Police Red Lights

    What are the Penalites for a DUI in Florida? 

    In addtion to the penalties below, Duval County will require a defendant attend DUI school and a Victim Impact Panel. Your attorney can provide information for both. 

    DUI; s. 316.193, F.S.

    Under Florida law, DUI is one offense, proved by impairment of normal faculties or unlawful blood alcohol or breath alcohol level of .08 or above. The penalties upon conviction are the same, regardless of the manner in which the offense is proven.

    Fines; s. 316.193(2)(a)-(b), F.S.

    • First Conviction: Not less than $500, or more than $1,000. With Blood/Breath Alcohol Level (BAL) of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not less than $1,000, or more than $2,000. 
    • Second Conviction: Not less than $1,000, or more than $2,000. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not less than $2,000, or more than $4,000.
    • Third Conviction More than 10 years from second: Not less than $2,000, or more than $5,000. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not less than $4,000. 
    • Fourth or Subsequent Conviction: Not less than $2,000.

    Community Service - s. 316.193 (6)(a), F.S.

    • First Conviction: Mandatory 50 hours of community service or additional fine of $10 for each hour of community service required.

    Probation - s. 316.193 (5)(6), F.S.

    • First conviction, total period of probation and incarceration may not exceed 1 year.

    Imprisonment- s. 316.193 (2)(a) 2, 4(b), (6)(j), F.S.

    At court's discretion, sentencing terms may be served in a residential alcoholism or drug abuse treatment program, credited toward term of imprisonment.

    • First Conviction: Not more than 6 months. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not more than 9 months. 
    • Second Conviction: Not more than 9 months. With BAL of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle: Not more than 12 months. If second conviction within 5 years, mandatory imprisonment of at least 10 days. At least 48 hours of confinement must be consecutive. 
    • Third Conviction: If third conviction within 10 years, mandatory imprisonment of at least 30 days. At least 48 hours of confinement must be consecutive. If third conviction more than 10 years, imprisonment for not more than 12 months.
    • Fourth or Subsequent Conviction: Not more than 5 years or as provided in s.775.084, Florida Statutes, as habitual/violent offender.

    Impoundment of Immobilization of Vehicle - s. 316.193 (6), F.S.

    • Unless the family of the defendant has no other transportation: First conviction = 10 days; second conviction within 5 years = 30 days; third conviction within 10 years = 90 days. Impoundment or immobilization must not occur concurrently with incarceration. The court may dismiss the order of impoundment of any vehicles that are owned by the defendant if they are operated solely by the employees of the defendant or any business owned by the defendant.

    DUI Misdemeanor Conviction: (Accident Involving Property Damage or Personal Injury)-s. 316.193 (3), F.S.

    • Any person who causes property damage or personal injury to another while driving under the influence is guilty of a First Degree Misdemeanor (not more than $1,000 fine or 1-year imprisonment).

    DUI Felony Conviction: (Repeat Offenders or Accidents Involving Serious Bodily Injury)-s. 316.193 (2),(3) F.S.

    • Any person convicted of a third DUI within 10 years or a fourth or subsequent DUI commits a Third Degree Felony (not more than $5,000 fine and/or 5 years imprisonment).
    • Any person who causes serious bodily injury while driving under the influence is guilty of a Third Degree Felony (not more than $5,000 fine and/or 5 years imprisonment) or if habitual/violent felony offender as provided in s. 775.084, F.S.

    Driver License Revocation Periods for DUI-s. 322.271, F.S. and s. 322.28,F.S.

    • First Conviction: Minimum 180 days revocation, maximum 1 year.
    • Second Conviction Within 5 Years: Minimum 5 years revocation. May be eligible for hardship reinstatement after 1 year. Other 2nd offenders same as "A" above. 
    • Third Conviction Within 10 Years of the second conviction: minimum 10 years revocation. May be eligable for a hardship reinstatement after two years. 
    • Fourth Conviction, Regardless of When Prior Convictions Occurred) and Murder with Motor Vehicle: Mandatory permanent revocation. No hardship reinstatement.
    • DUI Manslaughter: Mandatory permanent revocation. If no prior DUI related convictions, may be eligible for hardship reinstatement after 5 years. 
    • Manslaughter, DUI Serious Bodily Injury, or Vehicular Homicide Convictions:Minimum 3-year revocation. DUI Serious Bodily Injury having prior DUI conviction is same as "B-D" above.

    ​If You Have Any Questions Regarding a DUI in Florida

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.  

  • What is an Arrest and Booking Report?

    Picture of handcuffs

    What is an Arrest and Booking Report? 

    Why just tell you when I can show you, click here. As you can see, the A&B is the official report written up usually by the arresting officer in criminal case. The first page will provide some biographical information, including name, address, DOB, employer, place of birth and school last attended. There will aslo be identification information including, height, weight, eye color, race, sex and tattoos (distinguishing marks).  There will also be a section which provides for the basic geographical and time information for the incident that is being written up.  

    Officer's Version of Events Is Not Always Accurate

    Now on to the more exciting and important sections, the statues which the officer believes were violated and the brief summary written by the officer explaining why he/she believes a crime was committed. It should be noted that an officer does not file charges, they make the arrest. The criminal statutes named on an A&B may not be the final charges filed by the State Attorney's Office. 

    An A&B is not evidence in your trial, it does how ever provide very important information. The officer will attempt to recite why he/she believes probable cause existed for the persons arrest. Remember, "beyond and to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt" is the standard for a conviction in trial, a police officer only needs probable cause to arrest someone. The officer's written account can be used against them if they try to change their story when testifying in a hearing or trial. A skilled criminal defense attorney will know how to use all available information to direct the cross examination of a police officer and make sure the "real" story is being told.  

    The A&B provides an attorney the initial look at what the officer believes happened. In a DUI, the officer will put down his observations, as you can see in the sample A&B provided. Other crimes may involve victims or witnesses, some of their statements to the police will be in the summary and their names will be on the A&B. By reading the A&B an attorney can begin to devise any motions they may believe appropriate and start piecing together the strengths and weaknesses of a case.  

    Be Polite To The Police

    Often any incriminating statements you may make will be in the A&B, so it is best to try to keep your mouth shut and if you feel the need to answer in just a yes or no manner, please be polite. It makes it more difficult for your attorney to negotiate a good plea deal when your police report is full of f-bombs directed at the police. 

    If You Have Any Questions Regarding a Criminal Case in Florida

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.  


  • Why Was My License Suspended?


    • Possession, sale, trafficking in controlled substance,  FS 322.055 and 322.056 (1), 322.27(6).
    • Violation of noncriminal tobacco regulations by a minor, FS 322.056.
    • Delinquency in child support obligations, FS 322.058, 322.245.
    • Driving privilege suspended or revoked in another state or foreign country, FS 322.24, 322.27 (E).
    • Non-compliance with traffic court directives, FS 322.245.
    • DUI or similar offense; conviction, test refusals, FS 322.25, 322.26, 322.2616 (.02 & under age 21).
    • Violation of financial responsibility laws (car insurance), FS 324.251.
    • Not complying with court penalty laws regarding traffic tickets, FS 318.15.
    • Murder or manslaughter resulting from operation of a motor vehicle, FS 322.26 (1)(2).
    • Using a vehicle to commit a felony, FS 322.26 (3).
    • Leaving the scene resulting in death or injury, FS 322.26 (4).
    • Perjury, false sworn statements or affidavits to DMV, FS 322.26 (5).
    • 3 convictions of reckless driving in 12 months, FS 322.26 (6).
    • Sex offense effected through use of motor vehicle, FS 322.26(7).
    • Catch all provision- courts’ discretion- serious offense, FS 322.22 (8) and FS322.27 (2).
    • Points, FS 322.27 (3).
    • Incompetence to drive (not defined), FS 322.27 (1)(c).
    • Violation of any traffic law resulting in crash causing death, personal injury or minimum $500.00 property damage, FS 322.27 (1)(b).
    • Fraudulently obtained/use of drivers license, FS 322.27 (1)(d).
    • 2nd  conviction in 5 years of not stopping for school bus, FS 322.27 (1)(f).
    • Habitual traffic offenders, FS 322.264, FS 322.27(5).
    • Car theft conviction, FS 322.274(1).

    *This list is for educational purposes only and not to be intended as legal advice. All statutes should be checked to make sure all information is current and an attorney should be consulted for any further questions.

    If You Have Any Questions Regarding a Criminal Case in Florida

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883. 

  • How can I fight a driving under the influence (DUI) charge?

    No driver ever wants to see those blue lights flashing in their rearview mirror, but if you know you had a drink or two before driving, you may be particularly frightened—and for good reason. Driving under the influence carries serious penalties in Florida and—whether you feel drunk or not—if you were drinking, you could be over the legal limit to drive. But just because you were caught doesn’t mean you can’t defend yourself against the charge.

    Possible DUI Defenses

    Although you may feel like you’ve been caught red-handed, it may still be worth fighting your DUI charge. While it is against the law to drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher, it is also illegal for police to violate your rights when they stop, test, and arrest you. Some possible defenses against a DUI charge include the following:

    • Illegal traffic stop. You can only be pulled over by police if you have broken the law, such as by speeding or driving recklessly. You cannot be pulled over just because the police saw you leave a bar, for example. An exception to this law is for random sobriety checkpoints. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that DUI checkpoints are legal.
    • Botched sobriety tests. If a sobriety test, such as a heel-toe test or a breathalyzer, is improperly administered, the results can be thrown out. If a blood sample is not taken by a licensed technician or the sample is not properly handled or stored, that test could be inadmissible.
    • Miranda violations. You must be informed of your rights when you are arrested for a DUI, just like for other crimes. If an officer fails to issue the proper Miranda warning, the arrest could be overturned in court.
    • Medical conditions or medication. Certain medications—or even common household mouthwash—could register on a breathalyzer as alcohol. Fatigue or neurological disorders could cause a person to fail a field sobriety test. A police officer at the scene may not believe you if you protest, but a DUI attorney can present this evidence later in court.

    Depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest, there may be other defenses against your DUI charge.

    Always Consult an Attorney

    There is too much at stake to give up when you are arrested for DUI. A DUI conviction can have serious repercussions, including losing your license, losing your auto insurance, and even losing your job. Call the Clifton Law Office as soon as possible to discuss possible defenses in your Jacksonville DUI case.

  • What will my defense attorney do for me?

    Most people have heard the phrase “You have the right to an attorney,”—even if only on TV—but how many people know what a defense attorney actually does during criminal proceedings? We explain the role of a criminal defense attorney and why you should seriously consider hiring one if you are facing drug or driving under the influence (DUI) charges in Florida.

    What a Defense Attorney Does

    You have rights when you are arrested and charged with a crime. The right to an attorney is an important one to be aware of because it is the job of your attorney to ensure that all of your other rights are protected. The following are just some of the things a qualified defense attorney will do for you at each stage of a criminal proceeding:

    • If you are under investigation for a crime but have not yet been charged, an attorney can advise you on what you should and shouldn’t say, protect you from illegal searches, and generally make sure your rights are not violated.
    • Once you are charged, your attorney may be able to get the charges dropped if there is insufficient evidence. If the charge stands and a judge orders that you be detained until the trial, your attorney can argue for a reasonable bail amount for your release.
    • The prosecutor is likely to offer a plea bargain, where you plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. Your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to get you the best possible deal and will advise you on whether you should take it or go to trial.
    • If your case does end up going to trial, your attorney will, of course, argue for your acquittal. Representing yourself in a criminal trial is never a good idea, particularly when you are facing jail time. Your defense attorney will gather evidence, call witnesses, question the state’s case against you, and utilize various other legal strategies to get you the best possible outcome.
    • If you are found guilty, your attorney will argue for the lowest possible sentence given the charges against you. He may call character witnesses to help convince the judge that you do not deserve the maximum sentence.
    • If he believes there is cause, your attorney can begin the process for an appeal to try to get the verdict overturned.

    It is important to realize that an attorney who has been with you on your case from the time of your arrest will be much better prepared to fight for you than an attorney who joins after your trial has already begun.

    Criminal Charges Must Be Taken Seriously

    If you are arrested and charged with a DUI, drug possession, or drug dealing in the Jacksonville area, call the Clifton Law Office. If our experienced criminal defense attorney believes he can help you, he will take your case and fight for your right to fair treatment by the criminal justice system. Call us today. 

  • What makes a search illegal?

    In Florida and across the country, you have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution; however, you cannot protect your rights if you don’t know what they are. What are police allowed to do at a traffic stop, for example? Can they enter your home without your permission? If you were caught with drugs, there’s a chance it was the result of an illegal search. We explain the Fourth Amendment here.

    Your Fourth Amendment Rights

    Added to the Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to protect citizens from arbitrary and unwarranted searches and seizures of property by the government. It is the basis of modern laws regarding search warrants, wire-tapping, stop-and-frisk, etc. Specifically, the amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This means that police officers or federal agents must have a good reason to initiate a search and must have a warrant to do so.

    What This Means When Police Are at Your Door

    In order to enter your residence to conduct a search, a police officer or federal agent must meet one of the following standards:

    • Has a search warrant. A search warrant is a legal document issued by a magistrate or judge that authorizes police officers to search a premises. In order to obtain a warrant, the prosecutor must prove to the judge that it is likely that a crime has been committed or is being committed on the premises (probable cause).
    • Is able to justify a search without a warrant. In certain situations, police may enter and search a premises without a warrant. Some examples include being in hot pursuit of a suspect or believing someone’s life is in danger.
    • Has your consent to search. If you grant law enforcement permission to enter and search your home and they find something, it will be considered a legal search.

    Car Searches Fall Under Less Restrictive Laws

    The Fourth Amendment applies primarily to searches in your home. Law enforcement has more freedom when searching your car. As long as they have probable cause, they can search your car without a warrant, and it’s not hard for them to claim probable cause. It may be enough for an officer to claim he saw you swerve out of your lane or that he smelled marijuana in your car. However, it may be possible to argue that drugs found in a car were the result of an illegal search, depending on the specific facts of the case.

    Clifton Law Office Will Leave No Stone Unturned

    When you face drug charges, I will investigate every possible defense to the charges, including the possibility that evidence was obtained illegally. Contact me as soon as possible after your arrest so that I can help you every step of the way.


  • What is a plea bargain and should I agree to one?

    A criminal case—from arrest through sentencing—can take months to work its way through the system. Due to an overburdened justice system, the legal process is a slow one and prosecutors and judges are highly motivated to resolve cases and clear dockets as quickly as possible. One way they do this is through plea bargaining. A plea bargain—also known as pleading out or taking a deal—is an agreement between the prosecutor’s office and the accused in which each side gives something up in order to conclude the case.

    How Does a Plea Bargain Work?

    The purpose of a trial is to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence and, if he is found guilty, to issue a sentence. With a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty or “no contest” in exchange for a lesser charge or a reduced sentence, thereby avoiding court altogether. A no contest plea is a way for a defendant to accept a sentence without having to declare that he or she is guilty.

    Should I Take a Plea Bargain?

    There are advantages and disadvantages to plea bargains. Depending on the consequences you face, it may make sense to accept a deal. On the other hand, your case may be solid enough to be successful at trial. This decision should never be made without consulting a criminal defense attorney; however, we discuss some points for and against here. The main advantages to plea bargaining include the following:

    • Quick resolution. In some cases, a plea deal is offered soon after an arrest. If the terms are acceptable, the case can be resolved within days of the original charge. Even when it doesn’t happen that swiftly, plea bargains resolve cases much more quickly than going to trial.
    • Guaranteed outcome. No matter what evidence you have to show your innocence, the outcome of a trial is never a sure bet. With a plea bargain, you know exactly what to expect and even have some say in the outcome.
    • Less costly. It takes a lot less time for an attorney to negotiate a plea bargain than to prepare a case for trial, so taking a deal could end up costing you less in legal fees.

    If you are innocent of the charges, you obviously do not want to plead guilty just to save time and money. The downside to plea bargaining includes the following:

    • Criminal record. A plea deal goes on your record as a criminal conviction, even if you plead no contest. This can affect all aspects of your life, including your ability to get a job.
    • Opportunity for coercion. In an effort to conclude a case quickly, a prosecutor may pressure or even threaten a defendant to accept a plea. Sometimes, even innocent defendants end up pleading guilty under the pressure.
    • Potential for court rejection. Plea deals are non-binding on the court meaning you might think you have a deal only to have the court reject it and you are forced to go to trial anyway.

    Talk to Your Lawyer

    No matter how persuasive a prosecutor is or how many threats he makes, you should never accept a plea deal without talking to your criminal defense attorney. At the Clifton Law Office, we have the best interests of our clients in mind and we will help you reach a decision that makes the most sense for you. Before you do anything, call our office.