Think Twice before Going to Court Alone
As an attorney, I'm often asked if it makes sense to hire an attorney
for certain situations that some people think aren't that serious.
I almost always say yes. Sometimes I'm asked to be candid. My answer
is still yes. Ask yourself this question: If money was no object, would
I want a good lawyer to help me with this? If your answer is yes, you
have your answer. Now, I realize that money doesn't grow on trees
and even though we want the best for ourselves, our sons and daughters,
and our friends and relatives, we are also consumers who have to wonder
about the benefit for every cost. But if you aren't the one who would
have to spend time in a jail cell, you may not be aware of the risk and
the benefit of having a skilled attorney at your side. Always consider
the cost of jail and a criminal record and if you aren't the one who
got arrested, try to put yourself in his or her shoes because it may help
you understand what's at stake.
For some people, hiring a lawyer is something that they are going to do
no matter what. For others, they would like to hire a lawyer but are unable
to afford one. There are some people in the middle who have been told
by the police officer who arrested them or by others that they don't
need a lawyer, or they are simply hoping to avoid an unnecessary expense
by going with a public defender or legal aid. The reality is that we have
an adversarial system. The police officer who arrested you is not on your
side and has no legal obligation to give you honest advice. Maybe your
arresting officer is hoping you don't get a good lawyer because that
could be bad for him/her. Other people who downplay hiring a lawyer might
just be telling you what you want to hear. Our criminal justice system
is often a zero-sum game meaning that if they win, you lose and if you
win, they lose. Who you select as your attorney is your first move in
this game. If you hire someone who is cheap but inexperienced, you may
be unable to recover from this mistake later on. Spending several million
on a dream-team of lawyers like OJ Simpson may not be necessary, but you
should take the decision seriously because there may be more at stake
than your realize. For example, a criminal conviction, even without a
jail sentence, can lead to permanent loss of employment, loss of professional
licenses, immigration status, and can interfere with getting an apartment.
Certain felony convictions can additionally force you to move away from
certain neighborhoods and can lead to a loss of voting rights. There is
a correlation between felony convictions and homelessness in large part
due to the stigma of the conviction.
Mother Jones, in a 2013 article, found significant lapses in the public defender system. They concluded
that people who had the public defender were in serious trouble and the
charts below are from that article.
Consider these 4 reasons to avoid the public defender (legal aid / court
1. The public defender is too busy for your case and may want to plead
you guilty ASAP
As you can see from the chart above, public defenders are often burdened
by excessive caseloads. I've encountered legal aid attorneys who have
hundreds of clients that they are trying to manage. It's not unusual
for public defenders to forget their client's names, facts of their
cases, lose contact information, and generally feel too busy to sit down
with their clients to discuss the facts of the case and defense strategy.
This can lead to disastrous consequences.
2. Long ago, the voters decided to spend more on putting you in jail than
on your defense lawyer
Think about it. Funding the police department and District Attorney is
seen as being "tough" on crime. Funding the public defender
or legal aid office is seen as putting criminals back on the street.
3. The US spends a very, very small amount on your public defense attorney
If you or a loved-one has been arrested in New York City,
contact us for a free case evaluation. Never go to court alone.