If you've been arrested or charged with a crime, you'll probably need the immediate assistance of a criminal defense lawyer, particularly if your liberty is at stake. A good criminal defense lawyer can explain your rights in all stages of the criminal process and help make the difference between a reduced plea bargain or dismissal and a jail sentence.
Below is important information you need to know about hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Being charged with a crime -- whether major or minor -- is a serious matter. A person facing criminal charges risks severe penalties and consequences, such as jail time, having a criminal record, and loss of relationships and future job prospects, among other things. While some legal matters can be handled alone, a criminal arrest of any nature warrants the legal advice of a qualified criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and secure the best possible outcome for your case.
If you're facing criminal prosecution, a criminal defense attorney can help you understand:
- The nature of the charges filed;
- Any available defenses;
- What plea bargains are likely to be offered; and
- What is expected after trial or conviction.
What to Look for When Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Criminal defense attorneys handle a variety of criminal cases, including felonies, misdemeanors, drug charges, white collar crimes, and many other state and federal crimes. When looking for a criminal defense lawyer, you'll want to find the best one for your case. As such, you should concentrate on the lawyer's expertise, skill level, and knowledge.
A good criminal defense lawyer may help:
- Reduce your criminal charge to a lesser offense (for example, reduce a felony to a misdemeanor);
- Lessen the severity of the punishment for the crime;
- Reduce or eliminate jail time (via probation, for example); and/or
- Help you develop a sound defense strategy (if your case goes to trial).
Also, because of the nature of what's at stake, it's important that the attorney you hire has the necessary skill level needed to defend the case, and is the one who actually conducts most of the work. For instance, you may need someone familiar with crime scene investigations, witness/victim/police interviewing, and/or extensive knowledge of polygraphs, sketches, photographs, and video.
Finally, because criminal laws and penalties vary by state, it's important that the attorney have experience with the state and local rules of court.
How to Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer
There are numerous ways to find and hire a criminal defense lawyer. Referrals from friends and family or online research may be a good start. However, in many instances, a person facing criminal charges may not wish to publicize the news of his or her arrest to extended family members and friends or may not have unlimited time to research online.
Questions to Ask a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Before selecting a criminal defense lawyer, you should feel comfortable enough speaking with him or her concerning all aspects of your criminal charge. Below are some of the questions you should ask:
- Do you have any experience handling cases similar to mine?
- How much of my criminal case will you actually handle?
- How many jury trials have you litigated?
- How often do you work out plea agreements or ask for a lesser charge?
- What are your attorney's fees, and how are they calculated? Do you offer a payment plan?
- Would you be willing to provide references from clients you've helped?
Criminal Defense Lawyer Fees
The cost of hiring a criminal defense lawyer will vary depending on a number of factors, including the attorney's experience, reputation, track record, and geographical location. Most criminal defense attorneys bill their time either hourly or by a flat fee arrangement. Depending on the fee arrangement, some attorneys may allow you to get on a payment plan to handle ongoing charges. Others may require an upfront retainer fee before working on the case.
In all cases, it's wise to consult with a variety of criminal defense lawyers in your area to find one you feel comfortable with in representing you and get a sense of the costs involved.
If you can't afford to hire an attorney, you may be able to receive a state or government-appointed attorney to representation you in your case. If this applies to you, speak to a public defender in your area for more information.
Are You Ready to Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you're facing criminal charges that could result in a prison sentence, loss of professional licenses, or other tough penalties, you'll probably want legal counsel on your side. Get started today and reach out to a criminal defense attorney near you to discuss your situation and receive personalized legal advice.