Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
You’ve just been arrested and your worst fear has come true. Now
what do you do? The most important thing to do when facing a criminal
charge is to hire the right attorney. There are many historical reasons
why people are, generally, not allowed to defend themselves. For one,
the criminal justice system is an extremely difficult system to navigate
and there are many nuances in the law that can make or break your case.
Criminal attorneys not only have years of experience to allow them to
navigate the system easily, but attorneys are required to complete Continuing
Legal Education courses every year to stay current on all the newest developments
in law. Second, the prosecutor that will be assigned to your case is a
professional. He or she has been extensively trained in ways to overcome
your explanations, excuses, and defenses. The prosecutor is after one
thing: getting you convicted as quickly as possible. A non-lawyer trying
a case against a prosecutor is the same as you trying to beat Lebron James
in a game of one on one. People who represent themselves are held to the
same standards as licensed attorneys and are not given leeway. Also, the
stakes could not be higher in a criminal case. When charged with a crime
in New York, you are facing jail if convicted. Finally, you are so emotionally
invested in defending yourself, your attorney is in a better position
to fight for you because he can look at the evidence against you in a
calm and collective fashion while you may be panicking, which is understandable
following an arrest.
So, when charged with a crime, getting help from an attorney is the best
thing to do. Depending on the nature of your case this could mean hiring
an attorney immediately or you might be able to take your time in your
decision but the sooner you hire an attorney, the more time he/she will
have to prepare your defense. If the police decide to release you with
a desk appearance ticket (DAT) then you will have time before your court
appearance to hire an attorney. If you are not released with a DAT then
you will be arraigned before a judge either the same day or next. It is
important to hire an attorney to appear with you at this court date as
quickly as possible. This is often an emergency because there's only
about 24 hours after your arrest before you appear in front of a judge.
This leaves little time for your attorney to travel to court, prepare
a bail application, review the complaint, and contact with the DA office
and the NYPD to try and make sure that you get through the system as quickly
When hiring an attorney there are several factors you should consider.
Get a criminal lawyer. First of all, be sure that the attorney you hire is experienced in criminal
law. Don’t ask your cousin who is a family attorney to represent
you in robbery case. Inquire as to what percentage of the lawyers practice
is devoted to criminal law.
An attorney who devotes himself/herself 100% to criminal law is ideal.
Experience. Secondly, consider the nature of an attorney's experience. If your
case is particularly serious, such as a felony, you might want to find
out how many cases like that the attorney has handled. For example, if
you are facing charges for assault in the first degree (25 year max sentence),
don't go to court with someone who's most serious case was a misdemeanor.
Look for a former prosecutor. This is important because former prosecutors
(1) know how the other side thinks, (2) received extensive criminal law
training, and (3) probably handled hundreds of criminal cases in just
their first year as a prosecutor, and (4) probably have actual criminal
trial experience which is relatively hard to find.
Get Who You Hire. Who will handle your case? You should make sure you are clear as to who
will be handling your case at the firm. Is the attorney you hired going
to handle it personally, or will a junior associate handle the case? Some
lawyers you hire over the phone may be personally located in a remote
corner of the state with a local contract attorney who will meet you in
court. Some of the large defender organizations may bounce your case between
countless lawyers so you always meet a different lawyer in court. Not
ideal. Always know who will be appearing in court with you and whether
that person has the right qualifications.
Price.Don't pay too little, and don't pay too much.
This is the most feared but least important issue. I know what you are thinking - you are a lawyer so you are biased. It's
actually the opposite. As I'm a lawyer, I have a unique position to
see what has happened to nice, well-meaning people who hired the cheapest
lawyer possible. As yourself this - what is it worth to me? If I can get
the outcome that I really want, what is that worth to me? The other way
to look at this is to ask yourself how much a conviction could cost you
over the long term. A single conviction could lead to the loss of tens
of thousands, hundreds of thousands or more depending on the kind of work
that you do or plan to do. However, while the price of the attorney’s
fees should not be the sole factor in your choice, it must be considered.
You shouldn't pay an unreasonable fee and do not assume that the higher
priced attorneys are the better attorneys or the least expensive attorneys
are the worse.
Price should never be the only factor you consider. There are many factors that go into how an attorney decides his fees including
experience, complexity of the case, estimated length of case, how busy
that attorney is, and whether the attorney is charging a flat fee or hourly.
Trust. Finally, you should hire an attorney that you trust. The best way to do this is to meet with the attorney to see how you feel
about hiring him/her. You need to be able to trust that your attorney
is being honest with you about your case, even if its not what you want
to hear. In other words, don't hire an attorney who just tells you
what you want to hear. If someone tells you something that sounds too
good to be true or promises or guarantees a particular result, be cautious.
Also, you should look up your attorney to verify they are in good standing
with the bar which you can do
online here. If you find an attorney that is experienced and that you trust, strongly
consider hiring that attorney.
Hiring the right attorney is important but don't obsess over it. Keep
the above factors in mind and if you find someone who meets these criteria,
hire him or her and get going on a winning defense.