Sequence of Events following an Arrest for a Drug Related Charge

Interviewer: Let’s say, I’ve just been arrested.  I’ve spent my first night in jail and I’ve given you a call.  What’s going to happen from there?  What’s the process going to look like in a nutshell?  How many hearings am I going to have to attend?

Matthew Nebeker: Like I mentioned earlier, most of the cases that I see are felony level and are drug charges.  You come in and we discuss your case.  I ask you some of the important questions.  I get you recommended to maybe a treatment provider, something like that.

Our first hearing is going to be just an initial appearance where we’d go in there and say, “Judge, here we are.  I’m going to be representing my client and we need some time to get the information about the case, to do our own investigation, to get the police reports.  We need to set this out for a couple of weeks, maybe three or four weeks to gather all the information and do our own investigation.” Then we’ll usually schedule a preliminary hearing.  That’s a short hearing where the state has to prove two things.  One, that a crime was committed.  In a drug case, it’s use or possession or distribution – and that my client committed it.

The Prosecution has to Prove the Guilt of the Defendant Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Like I said, the burden there is really low.  It’s probable cause.  That’s the same as the standard as it is to arrest someone versus beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone.  It’s a safeguard built in the system. A lot of times, we use it as an opportunity to narrow some of the issues, pin the officer down on their investigation and to fill in the blanks in some of the police reports. After the preliminary hearing, if the case is bound over, meaning that the judge feels that there is probable cause to keep the case going forward, to schedule it for arraignment, which will be another three or four weeks later, depending on the court’s calendar.

Negotiations to Try and Resolve the Case are made at the Pre-trial Conference

At the arraignment, we go in there and you enter pleas of not guilty.  By this time, you start to get a lot of the information back on the case.  Your investigation is starting to come together.  After the arraignment, they’ll schedule what’s called the pretrial conference, maybe another three or four weeks later. That’s the where we try to see if there’s any negotiations that can be made to resolve the case, whether the client qualifies for any of the diversion or drug court program.  That’s where we try and settle the case.  If we can’t settle it there, we usually schedule it for a trial.

The first few hearings in a felony level drug cases, there’s not a lot happening.  It’s mainly just almost like scheduling conferences.  They’re very important meetings and it’s a very important part of the process. It’s slow in the beginning until we get all of the information we need, till we get the test results back from the lab, the toxicology results and things like that.

There is a Lot at Stake when Dealing with Drug Related Charges in Utah

Interviewer: If you do have a client that is hesitant to pursue a case, like they want to give up, what do you tell those clients?

Matthew Nebeker: If I do have a client that just wants to give up and doesn’t want to fight and wants to just go in there and plead guilty, I’d remind them of all that’s at stake.  I would try and remind them. What I mean at stake is possible convictions on their record, having that follow them through the rest of their lives, missed job opportunities.  More than that, I try to remind them that this is just a phase in their lives that they’re going through.

A Competent Defense Attorney always Advises his Clients to Fight Drug Related Charges

If they want this will go quickly, they will get it behind them.  They have of life ahead of them.  If they overcome these legal issues, they can live a good life and have a happy family and be successful. I just have to remind them that this is not the end of it.  Just because you’re charged, it doesn’t mean that you’re convicted.  They can get through it.  They just need to get helped with the legal aspect of it and sometimes the medical – the addiction aspect of it.

They can do it.  I try and encourage them.  I try and be positive with them, support them in any way that I can.  I work with treatment providers.  I work with probation officers.  Anything that I can do to have a better outcome for them.

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