Common Questions from Clients
How can I get a court to appoint a lawyer for me?
Do I need a lawyer at my arraignment?
How can I find a private defense lawyer?
What is a private lawyer likely to cost?
Should I represent myself in a criminal case?
Can I change lawyers if I’m unhappy with the one representing me?
Are lawyers available for defendants who can’t afford to pay for one?
How Can I Get a Court to Appoint a Lawyer for Me?
You can request the court to provide a criminal defense lawyer to help you through your trial process in particular circumstances. If you require such an appointment, you will have an opportunity to present your request during the first court appearance after your arrest.
The first arraignment involves several activities that include the bail hearing and plea. Therefore, upon your appearance, the judge will ask whether you intend to proceed with the matter with representation from a criminal attorney. If you do not have a lawyer present, the presiding judge will then recommend you to apply for a lawyer appointed by the court.
While the judge is ready to assist you in finding an attorney for your criminal case, you should note that you will have to fulfill several requirements before the application's approval. The process is not complicated and will only require you to provide specific information. Firstly, you will formally present a request in court, asking the judge to appoint a government-funded attorney for your case. The appeal, therefore, means that you require financial assistance in receiving legal services.
Along with your request for a lawyer's appointment, you will also have to give sufficient information on your financial status to prove that you need the government's support in getting a criminal defense lawyer appointed for you. Hence, you want to think of preparing files and reports on your bank statements, loan documents, and other financial obligations that prevent you from hiring a private lawyer.
When the judge receives the documents, he/she will assess them and choose a lawyer to appoint for your case within a short period. Conversely, some appointments take up more time, especially if there is a need to perform further scrutiny on your financial statements and your general financial position. Such delays arise when you claim to be indigent, meaning that you have minimal financial resources that prevent an independent appointment of a criminal defense attorney.
Since the primary rule guiding courts on appointing lawyers for defendants states that an indigent person must get free legal services, the court must verify your status. Doing so prevents the possibility of fraudulent defendants taking advantage of the assurance of free counsel services.
Alternatively, when the court finds that you can make partial payments to the appointed lawyer, the judge will direct you to pay for a specific percentage of the legal fees. Such directives place you in a more comfortable financial position to prevent constraints despite disqualification from receiving free services.
Do I Need a Lawyer at my Arraignment?
A court arraignment forms the basis for the subsequent procedures regarding your trial that you will face. Therefore, it is an essential process, as it determines the route your matter will take, including whether your case will proceed to trial. Usually, you will have a court arraignment within two days of arrest, depending on when the police apprehended you. On weekends and holidays, the waiting period may be extended because of the courts' short leave.
When you finally appear before the judge, he/she will inform you of your constitutional rights that promote a fair trial and tell you of your right to have a criminal defense attorney who represents your interests in the case. Additionally, the judge reads the criminal charges pressed against you to ensure you understand why you faced arrest. The plea taking process then follows, whereby you will either plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.
Naturally, you want to plead 'not guilty,' primarily where you have a legitimate chance to win your case when the matter proceeds to the trial stage. Consequently, taking the not guilty plea will pave the way for the trial process, where the prosecutor presents his/her evidence against you to persuade the judge to convict you.
Having a lawyer present will be beneficial for you, as he/she will give you professional recommendations on the consequences of taking each plea. Thus, you are assured of making an informed decision with an attorney present during the plea taking to avoid second thoughts in later stages.
You also want a criminal defense lawyer present as the judge issues the bail amount required to secure your release. The bail hearing also occurs during your arraignment period, whereby you can request for a fee reduction if you find the amount too expensive. While you may attempt to present the mitigating factors to help reduce the amount, it is best to work with an experienced lawyer who knows the most effective presentations to persuade the judge to set a lower bail amount.
How can I Find a Private Defense Lawyer?
Searching for an experienced lawyer to provide reliable criminal defense services may take up some time, especially if you have specific requirements. Therefore, we recommend broadening your search options and keeping your eye open to an attorney who exhibits exceptional legal prowess. Some sources that can help find a private defense lawyer include:
Observations in Other Court Proceedings
Sometimes, scouting for a criminal defense attorney is a great option, as you get to see your potential lawyer in action. Therefore, you can set aside time to attend open court proceedings and identify any criminal attorneys that interest you.
During the observation processes, you will also see the different lawyers' demeanors, which can be a good source of information on their confidence levels. In return, you will have had a glimpse at what you can expect when it is your turn in court.
When the court session you sat through concludes, you can then approach the attorney who caught your attention and request his/her contact information. Afterward, you can schedule consultation appointments to get acquainted with the attorney and present your current predicament for his/her assessment.
Contacting Attorneys You Have Worked With Before
Moreover, if you have interacted with a criminal defense lawyer in a previous case, you can always reach out and appoint him/her to handle your current charges. Based on your experience with the criminal attorney, you will know what to expect in terms of participation in investigations, preparations to take the stand as a witness, among other things.
Receiving Recommendations From Different Persons
You may also find valuable information that helps you choose an excellent criminal lawyer by seeking recommendations. These recommendations often come from friends, colleagues, and relatives who have used legal services from a specific lawyer. When seeking advice, ask about the attorney's office location, his/her average fees per consultation, and, if possible, the years of experience in criminal defense.
When you collect enough names from your different sources, you can then make a run down and see who will make the best fit for your needs. Some of the specifications to go over include how soon your recommended attorney can take up your matter and whether you need to pay a portion of the legal fees upfront.
Family or Friends in Practice
If you know of any relatives or close friends who practice in the criminal defense field, reaching out to them is always an option you can explore. The opportunity also creates a firm basis for your relationship because you will likely be in good terms with the lawyer.
Thanks to the preexisting relationship, you will also be more comfortable and vocal about your concerns, especially regarding the payment of legal fees. The close friend or family you consider options can then create flexible payment rates, if possible.
Using Referral Services
Professional referral services are also available for use in finding an attorney. When you consult one of these services, they provide comprehensive lists of criminal lawyers near your area, contact information, and other essential details.
Upon settling for a few options, you can contact the referral service and discuss the various options. The agent serving you may also provide additional information that distinguishes the lawyers on your list, to help you find the most suitable one.
What is a Private Lawyer Likely to Cost?
Most clients understandably have concerns about legal fees, which may cause them to lose out on finding reliable, professional criminal lawyers. Therefore, it is crucial to know the expected range of costs you may have to pay, as you will have adequate time to prepare your finances.
Usually, lawyers in private practice will charge $3,000 to $5,000 for misdemeanor criminal charges. If you face felony charges, you may have to pay $15,000 to $25,000 in total. Most lawyers will provide flexible payment rates to provide adequate time for financial preparations. However, you will have to pay a certain percentage of the total cost upfront to begin the legal process.
It would help if you also remembered that the legal fee rates vary depending on several factors. As a result, you want to conduct comprehensive research on different attorney fees in your area to help you get the best deal. Some factors that may alter the price you pay for criminal defense services include:
A Lawyer's Experience in Practice
Doubtless, experienced lawyers charge more expensive rates for their services, owing to increased demand and better assurance of receiving satisfactory results.
Lawyers with offices in high-end locations also have higher rates than more accessible areas because of the target clientele. Therefore, it would be best to look for lawyers from a place where charges are within your price range.
The Case Complexity
As discussed, you will pay significantly higher fees for felony cases compared to misdemeanors. If there are additional factors to your matter that make it more complicated, you should expect to pay additional legal fees for the extra labor.
Should I Represent Myself in a Criminal Case?
Sometimes, you may find it easier and more economical to represent yourself during a criminal trial. While it is a viable option, it is vital to consider the possible case outcomes to prevent avoidable negative consequences. For example, you want to have legal services from an attorney if your charges may lead to a jail sentence. With a lawyer present, he/she will be well equipped in presenting defenses that help prevent a jail conviction.
Additionally, it would help if you remembered that facing a conviction after representing yourself for even minor offenses has subsequent consequences. The aftermath becomes evident when you face a second conviction, as your criminal record will already have information on your first sentencing. As a result, even if you prefer to represent yourself, please consider the possible outcomes that may later cause serious issues.
Can I Change Lawyers if I’m Unhappy with the One Representing Me?
After hiring a private criminal attorney, you can change your lawyer if he/she provides unsatisfactory services. The freedom comes with the personal contract of service that exists between you and your lawyer. However, the prosecutor may limit your liberty to hire a new lawyer midway the case trial.
The rationale behind the prosecutor's refusal for you to hire a new attorney is that it may cause significant delays in the matter, as the new lawyer gets acquainted with the case facts. Subsequently, the judge may side with the prosecutor and stop you from hiring another attorney.
If the court appoints a lawyer, you will have a more challenging time requesting a different attorney. The main exceptions where the judge may accept your request is if you and your current attorney have serious wrangles that hinder a proper case development. Also, if your lawyer is incompetent, you may convince the judge to look for a replacement.
Are Lawyers Available for Defendants who can’t afford to Pay for One?
Every arrested person has a constitutional right to legal representation where imprisonment is a possible case outcome. The courts acknowledge your constitutional rights and create several collaborations with Public Defenders to take on criminal cases for those who cannot afford to hire lawyers personally.
Some advantages of receiving services from a public defender include:
They are experienced in criminal defense
They know different judges' demeanors
They have worked with many prosecutors and can quickly negotiate on your behalf
Moreover, if the court identifies you as an indigent defendant, you can benefit from private attorneys' liaisons in rotation. Depending on your financial situation, the government will cover all legal fees or ask you to pay for a small percentage of the total costs.