Criminal Law Questions and Answers with Sally Donaldson   

Picture this. You’ve found yourself in a situation where you are at risk of criminal charges, a criminal record and perhaps even a prison sentence. In the blink of an eye, life can take a drastic turn, thrusting you into a situation where the weight of uncertainty becomes palpable. Facing the prospect of criminal charges can be an overwhelming and life-altering experience, and in the midst of worries and stress, it also becomes paramount to tread carefully, ensuring that every step is well-informed.  

If the above resonates with you and you’re not sure what to do next, we’re hoping these helpful questions and answers delivered by Sally Donaldson, an exceptional criminal solicitor with over 20 years’ experience and a proven track record, will help to alleviate at least some of the stress and give you the confidence you need through the next stages of your case.   

1. When should I consider approaching a criminal solicitor, and what role will they play in my case? 

You should consider requesting a criminal solicitor from the moment of arrest. You are entitled to legal advice at the police station free of charge. It is your legal right to request a solicitor immediately. A solicitor will play a critical role in advising you on your rights, guiding you through police interview and ensuring proper procedures are followed.  

Early involvement will ensure access to all case information, allowing your solicitor to represent you effectively throughout the legal process.  

If you’re arrested, asking for a solicitor upon arrival to a police station is a proactive step in safeguarding your legal interests.  

If you are asked to attend a police station voluntarily for an interview under caution, we can attend with you and advise you throughout the process, again free of charge. 

2. What steps should I take immediately after being accused or charged with a crime to protect my rights and build a strong defence?

Engage with a solicitor promptly. A solicitor will be able to ensure your rights are upheld and perhaps most importantly will be able to gain access to the prosecution evidence on your behalf. This early involvement allows for a thorough assessment of the case, enabling the formation of an effective defence strategy, making use of all information available.  

3. Do I have access to legal aid, and how can I determine if I qualify for financial assistance in my criminal case? 

If you are on state benefits or a low income, you typically automatically qualify for legal aid. However, even if you are working you may still qualify and your solicitor can assist you in applying for legal aid on your behalf, ensuring you get financial assistance for your criminal case.  

4. How long is the criminal legal process likely to take, and what factors may influence the timeline of my case? 

The duration of a criminal legal process varies depending on the nature of the case and your plea. There is also a significant difference in timescales associated with whether a case is a magistrates or crown court case. Magistrates court cases typically resolve more swiftly, whilst Crown Court cases may extend months or even years in the most complex situations. The timeline is influenced by factors such as case complexity, evidence gathering and legal procedure.  

5. What rights do I have during police questioning, and when is it advisable to exercise my right to remain silent? 

During police questioning, you have the right to remain silent and it is advisable to exercise this right if you believe your answers may incriminate you. By ensuring you have a solicitor before the interview, they will be present to discuss the evidence with you, offering advice on how to navigate the questioning process appropriately. This ensures you are informed about your rights and receive proper legal guidance throughout the interview.  

6. Will I need to attend court, and if so, what can I expect during court proceedings? 

Whether you need to attend court or not depends on the nature of the case. For some motoring offences, personal attendance may not be necessary, but imprisonable criminal cases will always require attendance in person. At court, you can expect to be informed about the evidence against you and have time to seek advice regarding your plea. It’s advisable to address this beforehand as judges are unlikely to allow for adjournments on the court date. Being prepared in advance ensures you can make informed decisions during court proceedings.  

7. What role does the solicitor play in negotiating with the prosecution or presenting a defence, and how can I actively participate in my own case to achieve the best possible outcome? 

A solicitor plays a crucial role in negotiating with the prosecution and presenting a defence. To actively participate in your case for the best outcome, instruct a solicitor early. They can assess your case, make direct contact with the prosecution and access evidence efficiently. Representation enhances the ease of evidence gathering, making it essential for a robust defence.  

8. What potential outcomes or penalties should I be aware of if I am convicted, and are there any alternatives such as diversion programs? 

If convicted, potential outcomes include fines, community service, probation, or imprisonment depending on the severity of the offence. Alternatives may include diversion programs, with police offering courses or programs instead of court proceedings, typically available only to first-time offenders for certain offence types.  

More about Sally’s work  

Sally joined AmicusLaw in 2016 and is head of the Crime Department. She is a duty solicitor with over 20 years’ experience of criminal law work at all levels. Sally regularly advises clients at the police station, represents in the Magistrates’ Courts, and has Higher Rights of Audience allowing her to represent clients in the Crown Court. She travels between offices allowing her to see clients in Bridgwater, Wellington, Yeovil, Exeter and Minehead. Sally worked in Yorkshire and Bristol prior to moving to Somerset and has expertise in all areas of criminal law work.  

Need a criminal solicitor to support your case? Contact Sally today.  

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