After you have suffered the indignity of arrest, handcuffs, and a night or two in jail, the very next challenge you face is deciding how to choose a criminal defense lawyer.
This article will give you a few pointers about hiring a criminal defense lawyer and also let you know what your obligations are going to be to the attorney and to the court.
While this is not always an indication of a good attorney (there are many attorneys who have been practicing badly for many years), it indicates he or she has seen many different scenarios, is familiar with the DA’s office and judges in the counties where he/she practices, and knows the nuances of the business.
On the other hand, there are some very good criminal defense attorneys who will do an excellent job for you despite having been at it fewer years. They may take their obligation to you, the client, more seriously than some older attorneys.
Listen to your gut.
Is the attorney board-certified in criminal law? While this credential does not always indicate a good attorney, it does indicate a certain experience criteria, knowledge of the law, and that peer review has taken place.
But there are many, many great criminal defense attorneys who meet all of the criteria mentioned in this article who are not board certified.
Do you get to meet with the attorney whose name is on the door, some associate, or the legal assistant?
Which attorney will go to court with you?
Does the attorney promise you the moon or guarantee a certain outcome in the case? Run from that attorney’s office — he/she is lying to you.
Does the attorney make all of the decisions for you as to how the case will be disposed of or let you make the decisions?
How does the attorney’s staff treat you?
Does it feel like your attorney really cares about you and respects you, or are you “just a number?”
Does the attorney answer your phone calls and emails?
Does he/she notify you about the date, time, and location of the next court date?
Does the attorney request all of the discovery items from the DA’s or county attorney’s office (police reports, lab reports, videos, witness statements, your confession, etc.) and let you see them in his/her office?
Does he/she show you the statute you are alleged to have violated and tell you how the facts shown in the discovery prove each element of the offense?
Does the attorney tell you the plus-minus of rejecting the plea bargain offer (PBO) and going to trial?
Does he/she tell you all of the available legal and factual defenses?
Do you get copies of all motions that are filed by the state and your attorney?
Does the attorney give you the PBO in writing as soon as it is given to him/her, and are all of the terms of the PBO explained to you?
Are all of the consequences of accepting the PBO explained to you (such as a lifetime firearms ban, a driver license suspension, or the loss of a professional license)?
Is there a deadline for accepting the PBO? Have you been told what that deadline is?
Does the attorney tell you all of the available alternatives to entering a plea?
Do you know what the range of punishment (the minimum and maximum jail or prison time, as well as the possible fines) is for the offense with which you are charged?
Are you eligible for probation (either straight probation or deferred adjudication)?
Are there ways to get the case dismissed, non-disclosed, or expunged?
Are you eligible for a pretrial diversion program?
Does the attorney clearly explain his/her fee structure to you? Is it a flat fee or hourly fee?
Is there a signed fee agreement, and will the attorney go over that fee agreement to answer any questions you have before you sign it and pay your money?
What services do you get from the attorney for the flat fee?
Are you charged for the legal assistant’s time? What is his/her hourly rate?
What expenses are you responsible to pay? When is payment due?
Do you get a bill, at least monthly, itemizing what the attorney did for you?
Does the fee agreement provide a listing of the circumstances that allow the attorney to withdraw from your representation?
What happens to the unearned fees if he/she withdraws?
Legal representation is one area where you really do get what you pay for.
You may fire your criminal defense attorney at any time.
The attorney also has the right to terminate at any time, except when doing so would place your case in jeopardy (such as two days before trial).
When the case is concluded, will the attorney notify you that his/her services are completed and the file is being closed?
If you part ways before the matter is concluded, you may request your file, as it belongs to you.
However, all of the discovery items received from the DA’s or county attorney’s office will be returned to that prosecutor, as you are not permitted under current law to have any copies of it.
One exception is your own written or recorded statement.
Whenever you see an unfavorable rating for a criminal defense attorney on a website or on social media, take that with a grain of salt.
Often those come from clients who didn’t pay their attorney, didn’t cooperate with their attorney, and didn’t like what they heard from their lawyer.
They may blame their attorney for the outcome of their case rather than accept personal responsibility for their own choices.
However, if you see repeated bad ratings time after time from many clients, that is a sign of a systemic problem with the attorney, and you should stay away from that office.
If you see repeated good reviews from clients, consider calling and making an appointment.
Here is a list of some of your obligations to your attorney and to the court which you should honor if you want the best chance for a favorable outcome.
When your attorney attempts to contact you, answer the phone or the email.
If you change your phone number or email address, notify your attorney immediately.
If you have a change of employment or home address, notify the attorney immediately.
If you disappear into thin air, your criminal defense lawyer cannot help you, and it will be your fault.
When your attorney tells you to be in court, be there and be on time.
Don’t bring your children.
Behave appropriately in court.
If you don’t pay, your attorney will withdraw from your representation. But, if you are struggling to make payments, talk to him/her.
Your attorney didn’t sign up for this to work for free.
If you need to stop drinking, beating your wife, doing dope, compulsively gambling, driving drunk, etc., go get the help you need immediately.
Your attorney does not provide these services, but he/she can tell you where you are able to get them.
If you don’t make your weekly call, they will go off your bond and a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Committing more crimes while you have one or more cases already pending makes a criminal defense lawyer’s job that much harder and will likely close off some options for disposition.
Don’t discuss the facts of your case with anyone, other than your lawyer — no texting, emailing, or social media posts about what’s going on.
The police can get these by obtaining a search warrant for your phone, and your friends and family members can be subpoenaed to court and required to tell what you said to them.
However, what you say to your lawyer cannot be disclosed in court.
It is a crime.
The jury or judge will find out, and you will pay for it.
It may harm your case and undo all the good your attorney was trying to accomplish for you.
Don’t sugar coat the facts.
Don’t leave out any facts.
Tell your attorney everything. He/she will hate to be surprised during the trial.
It never helps for you to lie to your lawyer. Always tell him/her about all of your prior convictions and arrests.
If you committed the crime, recognize that fact and work with your attorney to try to mitigate the punishment you will receive.
If you find yourself in need and are not sure how to choose a criminal defense lawyer who is well suited to the unique needs of your case, click here to set up a consult, and we can discuss your options.
We’re here to help.
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