FAQ’s – Frequently Asked Criminal Defense Law Questions

When Should I Hire A Criminal Defense Law Lawyer?

It is best to hire a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you become aware that you are facing criminal charges.  Often times you are notified that you may be facing charges before they are actually filed.  In many cases, law enforcement will attempt to speak with you before obtaining an arrest warrant.  You may also be served with a warrant to search your property.  This is a crucial stage in your case, and it is important that you speak to a criminal defense lawyer that understands and fights for your rights and is aggressive in defending you in your criminal law case.  If you do not have the benefit of an early warning and you are arrested, it is even more important that you hire a criminal defense attorney immediately!  Even before you attempt to post bail, your criminal lawyer can be helpful. Your attorney can gain initial information about your case, inform you of your rights and help get your bail lowered, or in some cases, eliminated entirely.  You will typically not be able to speak to a public defender until your first court appearance, which may be days or weeks after your arrest.  Meeting your public defender on the day of your first court appearance allows for little time preparation to discuss your case or court procedures with the attorney.

Why Should I Hire A Private Criminal Attorney As Opposed To A Public Defender?

You likely won’t meet your court appointed attorney or public defender until your first court appearance.  This is far too late.  There are many potential mistakes that people may make before this point, such as making self-incriminating statements to a member of law enforcement.  These potentially life-altering mistakes could easily be avoided with the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense law lawyer.  The courts are very busy, and you will find that a public defender is likely not yet familiar with any information about your case.  You may immediately feel your case is just another file being hurried through the legal system.  Basically you are just another number.  Although a public defender should provide you competent representation, very often they do not have the time nor the resources to establish an effective defense.  They usually have only one or two investigators who must devote their time to the more serious cases, such as murders.  Ultimately, a defendant represented by a public defender receives the representation from an overloaded criminal court system.  This means that your defense is out of your control.  Most importantly, you do not get to select your criminal defense lawyer.  The public defender is appointed to you by the court, and you will typically not be able to change to a different public defender if you are not happy with your current one.  Fortunately, you can ALWAYS change from a public defender to a private attorney.  The only way you can exert control over your defense is by hiring a competent, experienced private criminal attorney.  A law firm will have depth of resources, such as experts and investigators, a staff of legal researchers, and extensive hands-on experience.  The potential consequences of a criminal conviction on your record are severe and life-altering.  It is vital that your criminal attorney understand that the rest of your life is at stake, including your personal life and your employment.  Your criminal defense lawyer should do his or her best to protect you, not treat you like you are just another file or number on an overflowing desk.

What Are The Consequences Of A Conviction On My Record?

The obvious consequence is incarceration and jail.  This is bad enough in and of itself, but if you have any health problems or medical needs, this is a very difficult place to be.  Prison staffs are not paid to care about your healthcare needs, including medications and medical care, and you have no say over where nor how you are housed.  Few people consider the consequences beyond incarceration.  A criminal record will haunt you for the rest of your life, interfering with employment, government services, credit, and housing.  Certain convictions require registration as a “sex offender,” which literally damages your reputation and makes you a virtual outcast in society.  Although certain states allow for certain records to be expunged, the guidelines are sometimes strict and can be difficult to meet.  There is no constitutional right to have your criminal record expunged.  In the case of non-U.S citizens, a felony conviction can and often does lead to deportation, even if you have lived here as a legal resident for a substantial amount of time.  Do not take a conviction on your record lightly.  Before you face these dire penalties, make sure you and your criminal defense lawyer are doing everything to protect your life and your future.  Ask yourself, will my criminal charge show up as a conviction on my criminal record?  Will I have the ability to expunge my record eventually?  Has your criminal attorney examined and explained all of your options to you in a way that you understand?  Criminal convictions are very serious, and all of your decisions must be well thought out, and you need to be well-informed of ALL of your options.

How Do I Pick The BEST Criminal Defense Lawyer?

This is a very difficult decision to make.  How do you know the criminal attorney you are considering is going to do a good job for you?  You have never seen him or her in action – you are just meeting him or her for the first time.  There are a few factors you can consider which will help you assess if the criminal attorney you are considering is the right one for you:

Experience – experience in handling your particular type of case is crucial.  Your criminal defense lawyer should be knowledgeable with court procedures, rules, case law, and should also have REAL trial experience.

In court, you have only two choices: take a plea agreement or go to trial.  If you choose to go to trial, you need to know if your criminal defense lawyer is comfortable in front of a jury, skilled at cross-examining witnesses, experienced at advocating to the judge, and not afraid to challenge the prosecutor on your behalf.  Remember, our justice system is an adversarial system.  These criminal trial skills come with years of actual courtroom experience and an expert ability to strategize the best defense.  You should also discuss possible defenses and strategies associated with your case with any criminal defense lawyer you intend to hire.  The attorney should also have a sense if your situation requires the use of experts or investigators.  Remember, it is not up to you to plan how you are going to defend yourself!

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “A Jack of all Trades and a Master of None.”  It’s best that your lawyer practice criminal defense with great intensity.  Criminal laws are constantly being tested and changed.  It is very difficult for attorneys to keep up with these changes in one area of law, let alone several.  The more specialized your criminal defense attorney is in a particular area, the better for you as the recipient of the benefit of his or her exclusive knowledge.

Finally, you should consider your personal comfort level with this person.  Is your criminal defense attorney taking the time to listen to you and your situation?  Are you comfortable speaking with them?  Does the attorney answer your questions?  Are they responsive?  Do they give you the impression that they are confident in handling your case, and do they make you feel as if they will fight for you?  Most importantly, do YOU have confidence in your criminal defense attorney?  If not, you need to reconsider which attorney you want to hire.  All of these considerations are important in establishing your personal comfort level with a criminal defense lawyer.  As with any situation, you want to feel comfortable with the person who you are working with, especially when that individual may have your life in their hands!

How Much Does A Criminal Attorney Normally Cost?

There is no golden rule here.  Criminal defense lawyers bill on a wide range of prices, however there are some guidelines that may help you establish what a reasonable fee is in your particular situation:

Severity – The severity of a charge is usually a primary factor in establishing the fee.  The more severe the consequences of the case and the more complicated the case, the higher the fee a criminal attorney will charge.  Simply put, there is a lot more involved in preparing for a murder case than for a DUI / drunk driving case.  Legal representation on a murder offense is going to cost substantially more than a drunk driving case because of the time and preparation involved.

Experience & Reputation– The experience and reputation of the criminal defense lawyer or the firm is also a factor in establishing the fee.  Again, common sense dictates – the more experienced the attorney and the more established his or her track record, the higher the fee.  Depending on the type of charge you are facing, this experience is exactly what you may require, and it will cost more.

Criminal attorneys are not commodities.  No two criminal defense lawyers are exactly alike in terms of skill, experience and the ability to help you in your case.  What you are shopping for is the best criminal attorney who can give you the best outcome for your case.  Find the right attorneys first. Then, consider price.  The old adage is true: You get what you pay for.  Cheaper is not better.  This is especially important if your life on the line.  Saving a few dollars on a cheaper attorney is not worth a few years in prison or a conviction on your record.  Experience & reputation do matter!

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