How to Choose a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you think you need a criminal defense lawyer, you probably do. If you have been arrested and released or are in jail, you should have an attorney represent you to ensure that the police and/or court do not violate your rights. If the police have not arrested you, but someone accused you of a crime and threatened to call the police, you might want to speak with a criminal defense attorney—even before that person calls the police.
Determine What Type of Criminal Defense Lawyer You Need
Criminal cases may be state or federal. Federal sentencing guidelines are complicated and are often more strict than state sentencing options. Both courts hear misdemeanors and felonies. Felonies are punishable by more than one year in prison and are more severe than misdemeanors.
Criminal defense attorneys must be approved before they can practice in federal court. In Connecticut, you will find federal courts in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. Federal cases are usually more complicated than state cases. If your case is a federal case, be sure the attorney you retain is a federal criminal defense attorney. Additionally, be sure the attorney you choose will travel to the federal district court.
Some lawyers only represent those who committed misdemeanors, traffic law infractions or minor felonies. If the police arrest you for a major felony such as rape, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, bank robbery or another serious crime, make sure the attorney has experience in representing those types of crimes.
If you have not chosen an attorney once the police arrest you, they may offer the services of a public defender. Those services are generally reserved for those who cannot afford a private attorney. If you can afford a private attorney, choosing someone who was a federal prosecutor gives you a step up in your defense. Former state and federal prosecutors are very familiar with the system and with the State’s Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney.
Personality and Experience
Always choose an attorney you like. Sometimes people just do not mesh. Working with someone you do not get along with does not help your case. You’ll always try to buck the system if you choose an attorney that you do not like. You will get a good sense of your attorney’s personality in the initial consultation, even if it is a phone call from jail. If you can get along with him or her, you are more willing to help with your case.
The attorney you choose should also have experience with the type of crime the police accused you of committing. The attorney should also be ethical. A non-ethical attorney may cause problems with your case, which means it could last longer. You should always ask an attorney about his or her experience with negotiating and with trial work.
Duffy Law has experience with negotiating with prosecutors and with going up against the government at trial. In many cases, the attorney will attempt to negotiate a lower charge or get the charges dismissed. Of course, this depends on the circumstances of your situation.
Narrow Your Choices
Once you find three or four attorneys you think you would like to work with, it’s time to narrow it down and choose the best criminal defense attorney. Do not pick an attorney because he or she has flashy marketing. Your pick should have experience in negotiating and trying criminal cases first and foremost.
If an attorney makes blanket statements to make you think he or she is always successful, run far and fast. Not every attorney is going to be successful with every case if you measure success as a get out of jail card. Achievements such as getting a charge lowered, bail lowered or getting someone’s case settled before it goes to trial are the types of outcomes you want your attorney to have. While you might think these are not successes because a person is still in jail, they are. The person in prison for a year could have committed a crime that carries a five-year sentence.
Contracts and Costs
Before you retain an attorney, review his or her contract carefully. The contract should tell you:
- What the initial retainer is;
- How much per hour the attorney charges;
- How much per hour non-attorney staff charges;
- When the attorney’s representation stops;
- Costs, such as postage, copies, filing fees and other administrative costs;
- What happens if you do not pay for your attorney’s services; and
- What services your attorney is providing for you.
An attorney may represent you through arraignment or the negotiation process for an initial retainer. She may also represent you through trial. Always read the contract so that you know what your money is paying for and so you will see whether you will need to come up with more money if your case goes to trial.
Questions for the Attorney
During your consultation, you should ask your attorney several questions, including:
- Payment schedules
- How many cases the attorney negotiated or tried that are similar to yours
- How many plea deals the attorney was able to work out that resulted in a lower charge, for example, dropping a felony to a misdemeanor under certain circumstances
- How often the attorney was successful in reducing bond amounts or getting the court to release a person on his or her own recognizance
- What your alternatives are. In some cases, the negotiations for a plea deal may not get the result that is acceptable to you. If not, you may want to know if other types of sentencing are available, including probation, house arrest or even a shorter sentence
- Why the attorney thinks he or she is the best one to handle your case
- What information the attorney needs to get started working on your case
Once you have answers from your narrowed choices, choose the criminal defense attorney with the best solutions for your case.