Yesterday, I began the first of this two-part Attorney Sam’s Take. Much of what is suggested has been discussed before in earlier Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog posts. However, I am hoping that the message is made even clearer when put forth in this way.
There are some decision into which you are rushed which can affect the rest of your life. This is one of them. However, before you start envisioning the proverbial gun to your head, understand a few things. First of all, the decision does not have to be final. If you have begun the case with an attorney who greeted you at arraignment or someone you picked up along the way, if you have lost faith in that attorney, you can probably switch. There are limitations to this, of course. For example, if your case is about to go to trial, the court may not allow you the time needed for your new attorney to catch up to speed. Also, if your attorney has been appointed by the court and he is the third such attorney you wish to fire, the court might decide that you are simply being too difficult and not allow you yet another court appointed attorney. However, you can always either hire your own lawyer or represent yourself.
The latter…although it is your right…is a bad idea.
That said, my list continues:
6 Does The Lawyer Have Experience In The Type Of Allegations Of Which You Are Being Investigated Or Accused?
Many long-time criminal defense attorneys have handled most types of criminal matters. But you cannot assume that they have. You have to ask.
For example, there are some defense attorneys who only focus on one type of crime. They might be brilliant in handling drunk driving cases. However, would you want to take a chance on how they are going to do in representing you for drug trafficking or murder? How about if you are being investigated and the result of that investigation can change your life?
I didn’t think so.
7. Has The Attorney Brought Any Cases To Trial?
Most criminal cases, like civil cases, end up in a negotiated disposition. In other words, an agreement is reached (known as a “plea bargain”) prior to the matter going to trial.
That is not, however, always the case. Particularly if you are not guilty. Furthermore, even if your case does end prior to trial, trial experience is important to not only determine the chances of a favorable outcome should there be a trial, but will also put you in a better position to bargain.
You do not want to be in the position that you feel you have no choice but to “plead out” because your attorney is not prepared as a trial lawyer.
8. How Often Does The Lawyer Actually Go To Court? How Experienced Is He/She In Motions Practice?
Criminal cases do not end overnight. The road to their resolution is just as important as the trial or plea date on which the case ends. How the matter is handled during your trip down that road is critical in both evaluating the case and bringing it to a successful conclusion.
There are usually a number of motions that should be brought on your behalf long before any trial date. The most important such motions are motions for discovery, suppression of evidence and dismissal of the case. Not all of these motions, of course, are appropriate in every single case. You need experienced counsel to be able to ascertain the propriety of, draft and argue the motions.
A lawyer with little experience or who tries to manage the case from his or her favorite armchair in the office is not likely to be your best bet when it comes to this part of the case.
You want a lawyer who is comfortable and confident when it comes to being in court and fighting for your rights. This usually means someone who is used to being there and doing this on a very regular basis.
9. What Kind Of Communication Can You Expect From Your Lawyer?
Understand the roles of both yourself and your attorney.
Your lawyer is your defender here. You have to be able to count on the lawyer for advice and to protect you on a daily basis. On the other hand, you are the client. While your attorney is your advocate, it is your case. At the end of the day, it is you who either enjoy the success or serve the sentence.
There are various decisions that you will be asked to make as the case goes on. Decisions only you can make. You must be informed in order to make those decisions.
In other words, it is incumbent upon the lawyer to keep in touch with you.
Further, it is so common that attorneys do not answer their client’s calls within a reasonable time that you might wonder if they are really expected to.
Make sure that your lawyer and you are on the same page in terms of contact.
10. What Is The Cost Of Your Attorney’s Services And How Are Those Services And Outside Costs Get Determined?
There are many types of fee arrangements offered by various different attorneys. Sometimes it depends on the type of case it is. For example, in a personal injury case, a contingent fee is often possible. Because there is no monetary reward involved in defending a criminal matter, that is not possible.
Some lawyers bill by the hour, others bill by way of a “flat fee”. The benefit to a flat fee is that you know up front how much the attorney’s fee will be. In fact, it is often paid early on in the case so that the payment issue is out of the way.
Another benefit of a flat fee is that it tends to be cheaper for the client. The truth is that criminal cases are time intensive. If you were to pay any decent lawyer’s fee by the hour throughout the pendency of the case (usually a year or more), the likely fee would be far greater than if the arrangement were a flat fee.
That being said, some attorneys charge more than others. Those with a great deal of experience and who usually enjoy good results tend to be more expensive than those otherwise situated. In other words, you often get what you pay for.
It is also important to ascertain what, if any, costs are likely to be necessary in your case. Generally, outside costs (for example for transcriptions or experts) are the responsibility of the client. Other more incidental costs such as mileage, postage and copying are sometimes covered by the attorney.
Your time in the criminal justice system will be a real eye-opener. Often, what passes for logic and reasonableness in your daily life does not apply in court.
You may consider yourself to be the most brilliant and “street-smart” human being on the planet. Maybe so. But would even you go unguided through the foreign territory of an unknown jungle? Jumping head-first into the criminal justice system without such a guide is to lay yourself wide open for dangerous plants, animals and quicksand about which you have no idea.