Whether you have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) or you are facing criminal charges for aggravated assault, the outcome of your case could have a profound impact on your future. Most people understand that a criminal conviction can have devastating consequences that include jail or prison, substantial fines and other costs, mandatory participation in counseling or classes, loss of driving privileges, probation, a criminal record, forfeiture of constitutional rights, and more. The penalties associated with conviction of a misdemeanor or felony provide a compelling reason to maximize your chance of a positive disposition. A criminal record can affect your career, educational opportunities, family relationships, financial future, and reputation.
While you have many options when seeking legal representation, your choice of a criminal defense attorney can have a profound impact on the outcome of your case. Criminal defense attorneys differ dramatically in skill, expertise, experience, ethics, style, and tenacity. Given the stakes when you are facing criminal charges, you need the best defense from a skilled criminal defense lawyer to protect your future. In this blog post, we highlight key ways that your selection of a defense attorney can influence your criminal case.
Private Attorney vs. Public Defender
The first decision you must make about legal representation involves whether to retain a private lawyer or use a public defender. Because eligibility for a public defender depends on financial eligibility, the so-called “choice” of a public defender will not exist for many defendants. Even if you qualify for a public defender, the choice to work with a private criminal defense attorney can have a number of advantages. Public defenders can be both skilled and conscientious, but they also must overcome certain disadvantages. The typical caseload for a public defender can be massive, which makes it difficult to meet with clients to discuss their case. Because many public entities face fiscal challenges, a public defender’s office might struggle with limited resources that preclude expensive forensic or DNA testing, the use of certain experts, and the association of criminal defense attorneys with unique criminal defense subspecialties.
While a criminal defense lawyer might wait to intervene in your criminal case until you have been charged, hiring a proactive law firm early in the process could reduce the chance of facing formal criminal charges. Prosecutors will make an initial plea offer that will set the parameters for subsequent offers. Efforts to ensure fewer or less severe initial charges can yield both more lenient sentencing exposure if the case goes to trial and result in an ongoing advantage in plea negotiations. If your defense attorney effectively exposes weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case or illegal conduct by the police prior to formal charges, the charges might be significantly reduced or dismissed.
Access to Litigation Resources and Experts
Many law firms have valuable resources like their own private investigators and a network of renowned experts they often utilize. The law firm must be able to fit into your budget but minimizing costs might not be your highest priority when your freedom hangs in the balance.
A significant number of attorneys have experience but not all experience is equal. If only a small percentage of the firm’s cases involve criminal law, you might decide a firm that devotes more of its time and resources to criminal cases offers a better alternative. A criminal defense attorney with experience handling your type of charge also is important. Even if the firm devotes a substantial amount of their practice to defending the accused, they might have limited or no background with the specific charges you are facing.
The Hidden Consequences of Pleas
The formal penalties associated with a plea offer do not always tell the whole story. If you are evaluating the potential consequence of a conviction or plea agreement, this process cannot be performed properly without understanding the “unofficial” costs. If you are not a U.S. citizen, for example, you could suffer negative immigration consequences. A guilty plea in a DUI case also could result in many hidden expenses like the cost of mandatory classes, treatment programs, driver’s license reinstatement fees, and higher insurance rates along with fines imposed by the court. You want an attorney who lays out all of the formal and informal aspects of a proposed disposition of your case, so your decision about how to proceed is fully informed.
Awards, Recognition & Professional Reputation
While many people who lacked a referral once were relegated to such unreliable sources as the yellow pages, today potential clients can research their options prior to selecting an attorney. Several third-party legal portals rate law firms and/or individual attorneys, such as Martindale-Hubbell, AVVO, and others, but many of these rating services also double as paid advertising. Consumers should analyze these ratings with a critical eye. Professional peer reviews might be the most reliable because other attorneys provide educated opinions about a criminal defense attorney’s reputation. A way to obtain feedback about the attorney-client experience is to view websites like Yelp, Google, and others unaffiliated with the law firm to read client reviews.
The Advantage of Local Counsel
An attorney with experience defending against criminal charges in the same courthouse where your case is pending offers the benefit of knowledge of local practices and procedures. Most of the criminal laws will apply on a statewide basis, but specific procedural issues might differ based on the courthouse. The district attorney in a certain area might have blanket policies that prohibit plea negotiations regarding certain offenses. A local defense attorney also will be more familiar with the practices of specific prosecutors and might even know if the officer involved in your case performs well in court. Some law firms which handle cases statewide will specifically engage local counsel for that purpose.
About the Author:
After being employed at a highly reputable civil litigation and family law firm in Rancho Cucamonga for several years, Mr. Schwartzberg opened his own office in 2012. With the experience he gained while working in the private sector, along with working as an extern for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office and as an extern for a Federal Magistrate Judge during law school, Mr. Schwartzberg represented clients in family law, criminal and civil proceedings in various counties across Southern California.