Frequently Asked Questions about Criminal Law

How do I know if I need a criminal defense lawyer?

This may seem like an odd question, especially if you have a court date or been recently arrested. It is important as soon as you realize that you are or may become a target of a criminal investigation to contact a competent criminal defense lawyer. However, many people are contacted by the police and do not realize they may be a target of a criminal investigation. Waiting to consult with a lawyer until you are actually charged may put you behind in developing your defense.

If you are facing jail or prison it is crucial that you hire a competent criminal defense attorney immediately. Representing yourself in the criminal courts is a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution. But, most people are unable to represent themselves properly in a criminal matter because they face so many variables and complexities.

Most criminal defense attorneys prefer to start investigating a case as soon as the known there is a criminal investigation underway.

What does a criminal lawyer do?

The work of a criminal lawyer is multifaceted. Skilled lawyers do much more than legal research or argue before the court. Lawyers are also counselors who help you understand the system of criminal justice, the criminal procedure, the actual charges and penalties you may face.

A criminal defense attorney will help you develop a strategy in dealing with your legal problem. A competent lawyer will investigate the case before almost anything else. This involves obtaining the investigative report from the police. It may include interviewing witnesses or obtaining documentary evidence. In some cases, the criminal defense specialist needs to employ a private investigator who assists in finding witnesses and interviewing them.

A good criminal defense strategy usually involves exploring a plea bargain by negotiating on your behalf with the Prosecutor. If a case can be resolved to your liking without the stress and expense of a public trial then it is to the client’s advantage to make a compromise with the prosecution.

Very important to your future are the implications of any negotiated disposition of your case. Certain crimes carry penalties which are administered by administrative agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. A competent lawyer will know such possibilities and make you aware of them so you can make good decisions.

In every county there are local customs and practices that a lay person with no experience in the criminal courts would find difficult to understand. A seasoned criminal defense attorney will know how to maneuver your case to your best advantage using the system and the law.

The criminal defense advocate is an advocate for you in developing a sentencing strategy should you be convicted in the criminal court. This plan may include having substance abuse counselors write evaluations of you and your prognosis. It may also include having friends, family, your religious advisor write a letter to the prosecutor or the judge on your behalf.

Where do I find a competent criminal defense attorney?

There are a myriad of ways to find a good lawyer. Perhaps the best and most commonly used way to find a good lawyer is to ask someone you know and trust who they use as a lawyer for problems like yours.

You might be uncomfortable consulting with a friend, your parents or grandparents about getting busted while drunk driving or getting a ticket. But you need a lawyer, thus you need to take other approaches such as finding a lawyer on the Internet or in a Yellow Pages Directory. Perhaps the second to asking someone you trust about which lawyer to retain, is to ask a Judge or lawyer who they recommend.

Many local Bar Associations as well as the State Bar of Michigan have lawyer referral services. These services have rosters of lawyers who specialize in a particular field such as traffic ticket or drunk driving. You may be required to pay a consultation fee to see the lawyer. Many of these services also require the attorney to maintain a Professional Liability Insurance Policy in the event of attorney malpractice..

What is the best criteria to use when hiring a Criminal Lawyer?

The best thing to do before making the initial calls to a defense attorney is to develop a checklist of qualities you are looking for in hiring a lawyer.

These are my recommendations:

Experience & Reputation. There is no substitute for someone who has experience and an excellent reputation as a specialist in criminal law.
Trial Experience. It is important to know that your attorney can do a credible job I the courtroom should the need arise.
Familiarity with the local criminal justice system. A lawyer who can communicate effectively with a Judge or Prosecutor about your legal defense and your character is worth every dime you pay him or her.
Chemistry. You have to be comfortable with your lawyer. You have to feel good about your fate being tied to this attorney’s performance.

Should I ask about the price of legal services on the telephone?

You should expect your phone call to be answered professionally. This will be your first clue about the lawyer you are looking to hire.

It is unreasonable to expect a lawyer will be immediately available at the time of your first call. Most lawyers are very busy and operate by appointment.

Many people call criminal defense lawyers and relate immediately they are “price shopping”. Lawyers, unlike your local television retailers are professionals and do not compare wares. The criminal defense lawyer is in a helping profession not a business. Therefore, it is a turnoff to many lawyers to encounter a client for the first time whose first and primary concern is the price of legal services.

Lawyers are reluctant to answer the question, “How much will it cost?” by telephone because it is necessary to understand the problem to be handled before you can quote an accurate fee. Therefore, a quick 3 minute phone call about your legal problem is unlikely to result in the lawyer being able to understand the case well enough to quote a fee.

If you want to hire the right lawyer, you need to meet that lawyer in person to size them up. The lawyer will be in a better position to analyze your problem and you will be in a better position to analyze the lawyer.

What is the cost for the first consultation with a criminal defense lawyer?

The initial consultation fee with a criminal defense specialist varies. Many attorneys charge a nominal fee of $100 or $200 to meet with the client. Others usually waive the consultation fee for the first meeting with a client.

What will it cost me to hire a criminal specialist?

Again, the fees charged by lawyers vary. There are many factors that go into setting an attorney fee in a criminal case. Those factors may include;

The experience and reputation of the attorney
The complexity of the case
The availability of the lawyer
The amount of work the attorney may have to forego to accept the case, etc.

The legal marketplace also impacts how much a lawyer will charge a client to handle a particular criminal case. If it is a traffic ticket like speeding or red light violation then the cost is rather modest.

Most criminal defense lawyers charge a flat fee for their services. The flat fee can be structured to cover stages of the case. For example, in Michigan a felony case starts in the District Court. The case may require the lawyer to appear at an arraignment, pre-trial, final pre-trial, motion hearings and a preliminary examination. Once the case is bound over to the Michigan Circuit Court there are various procedures that eventually lead to a jury trial. This type of fee is often in the client’s best interest because the client pays only for what services were rendered.

In the flat fee situation the attorney might set a flat fee for representation at a particular stage of a case or simply set a flat rate even if the case goes to a jury trial. Yet other lawyers might charge some combination of a flat rate fee in addition to a per diem charge for each day of trial.

Hourly rates vary by community. Those hourly rates may typically range from $125 per hour to $300 per hour depending on the experience and reputation of the lawyer.

Do lawyers have installment payment plans?

Yes. Criminal defense work is a bit different than the average divorce case. If a client is convicted in a criminal case the consequence could be jail or prison. It is difficult to earn a living if you are behind bars. Thus, most criminal defense lawyers like to be paid the majority of their fee “up front” just in case things go badly. However, my office will accept a substantial payment to start the case and arrange installment payments over a short period of time in certain cases especially drunk driving tickets.

How do I raise the money to pay my lawyer?

Very few people prepare for the contingency of being charged with a criminal offense. As a consequence the shock of arrest and then of having to come up with a retainer fee for a lawyer can be confusing.

If you find yourself short of funds on hand then you must consider a range of options quickly in order to hire a lawyer. The first and most obvious place to find money is at your bank. However many law offices now accept credit cards.

Many clients turn to family and friends in time of need. Before you do that you have to set aside your pride in having to ask for help. I find clients reluctant to do this because of the embarrassment it causes to explain what happened and then ask for money. This however, is the first step for many clients in obtaining a good base of support for what is about to unfold in the criminal court.

In some cases if savings and credit cards are not adequate to pay the lawyer’s fee then you have to look at borrowing money. Banks will extend signature loans in many cases with a co-signer for amounts sufficient to pay a retainer fee. In other situations a home equity loan or a new mortgage might be necessary to obtain sufficient funds to retain a lawyer.

Often your lawyer will know a banker or a mortgage broker who can help you sort out your credit needs.