“Should I represent myself?”
A felony or misdemeanor conviction can devastate a person’s employability, reputation, family relationships, and more. Hiring the best criminal defense attorney to help you can be confusing.
Here is what you need to know.
Many people question whether they need a lawyer. Innocent people might think, “If I didn’t do anything, why would I need an attorney?” A guilty person might think, “If I did it, why do I need an attorney?” Although either thought is understandable, the logic is flawed under either scenario. Although hiring a lawyer can be a significant investment, a good lawyer will be able to accomplish far more for you than you would be able to do on your own, or even with an inferior lawyer. In the vast majority of cases, hiring an attorney will have a significant impact on the outcome of your case, to possible dismissal of charges, the sentence imposed, what plea bargain is offered, and if there is a conviction. It takes an experienced attorney to know what options may be available, what laws may be helpful to your case or defense, what plea bargains may be available, and how to argue for a lenient sentence effectively. The deal offered by the prosecutor will rarely be as favorable without a respected defense attorney. Prosecutors know the lawyers who plead out all their clients and the ones that are capable of winning at trial. If your lawyer is not a credible threat, the prosecutor has little incentive to give you an extraordinary deal. If you represent yourself, there is no incentive.
Additionally, an attorney can advise you on the direct and indirect consequences of a conviction. There are collateral consequences that you may not know, such as firearms restrictions, loss of voting rights, deportation, suspension or revocation of a professional license, and more. The positive impact of a good defense lawyer can be so significant that he or she saves you far more money than you will pay in legal fees. For example, if an attorney can negotiate the reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor or negotiate a resolution without a suspended driver’s license, the client may be able to keep his job or not be prevented from seeking better future employment. Alternatively, a lawyer who can prevent a violent crime conviction may be able to save a client from losing custody of children. The benefits of working with a qualified, reputable lawyer are too numerous to review, and every person’s case is different.
A respected, successful criminal defense lawyer will likely be able to reduce the amount of fines, costs, fees, and restitution. He or she will probably be able to reduce or eliminate the costs or requirements for drug treatment, testing, therapy, and other costly probation requirements. Ask yourself, “what is the value of a reduced or dismissed charges, elimination or reduction of potential jail time, and the reduction of time on probation or terms and conditions of probation?”
Should I hire ANY private attorney before I accept a public defender?
If you lack the resources to hire an attorney and you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges, you are entitled to have a court-appointed attorney represent you with no up-front cost. The judge will appoint a public defender upon your request at arraignment if you are entitled to one. You will have to reimburse the court for the cost of the court-appointed lawyer if there is a conviction by plea or trial. Many people have an extremely negative perception of public defenders and act as though they’d instead hire ANY private attorney before accepting a public defender. Hiring an unqualified attorney would be a mistake. Many appointed lawyers do their best and provide satisfactory legal services. One of the most significant disadvantages of court-appointed counsel is that, for better or worse, you are stuck with the attorney chosen by the court. The only way to assure that you have a lawyer you trust is to retain an attorney privately. Some of the most incompetent lawyers offer budget prices or long-term payment plans. If this is your only option, a court-appointed attorney might be your best option. Judges and prosecutors know what lawyers are disreputable, and a lawyer’s poor reputation or representation can have dire consequences for the client.
A quality retained criminal defense lawyer will be in a position to spend time getting to know you, the facts of the case, and all available defenses. Typically, retained counsel will have more time and resources to interview witnesses, collect and preserve favorable evidence, consult with you about the case, prepare for court hearings, and develop a winning defense. A common complaint of people represented by appointed lawyers or bargain attorneys is poor communication. A lawyer who fails to return calls, or take time to discuss a client’s concerns thoroughly, can cause more stress than they are worth.
Why should I pay for an attorney if I’m entitled to a public defender at little or no cost?
As explained above, accepting the appointment of a public defender is usually a much wiser choice than retaining an unskilled (and often low-cost) private attorney or a general practice attorney (one that practices other areas of law in addition to criminal defense). But you should also know the drawbacks of representation by a public defender. Their caseloads are often far too high to give your case the attention it deserves. Also, it is common for public defenders to switch clients or arrange for coverage so frequently that you have a new attorney each time you go to court. Consequently, it is often difficult for the client of a public defender to find someone who takes “ownership” of the case and gives direct answers about its progress.
Additionally, even if you dislike your public defender and have legitimate complaints about the work he or she is doing (or not doing) on your behalf, you have no right to fire that person once appointed by the court. Unless you hire a lawyer to replace appointed counsel, you will have to get the judge’s approval to get a newly appointed lawyer. Judges are very reluctant to permit changes in appointed counsel. Conversely, they usually welcome a change to an experienced, reputable retained lawyer.
How can I learn what it would cost to hire a criminal defense attorney?
Unlike most attorneys who bill by the hour, criminal defense lawyers typically charge flat fees. An attorney will likely want to discuss your situation to assess its complexity before quoting a fee. Lawyer’s who hire “one-size-fits-all” or “cookie-cutter” fees will typically not give a client the personalized attention needed in their case.
Lawyers who quote “one fee” or “one low fee” for everyone charged with a particular offense should be thoroughly researched online to confirm that they have a good reputation and track record. Lawyers who focus more on quantity of clients, as opposed to the quality of representation, typically use this type of “one-size-fits-all” fee structure for DUI, OWI (drunk driving), retail fraud, probation violation, and domestic violence cases. A lawyer who is going to care for you and fight for you is going to take the time to determine a fee that is fair for your particular case and your unique situation.
What are the benefits of a flat fee?
The benefit of a flat fee is that clients know, at the outset, how much he or she must pay an attorney. Anyone who has ever hired an attorney at an hourly rate knows that it can be scary to await a huge bill every month, mainly since it is almost impossible to know for sure whether the attorney is acting ethically – billing for necessary services that were performed – or billing more time than what was actually devoted to a case and charging for services that were never really essential to the case. Some lawyers abuse clients who are paying hourly by running up bills by performing services that are unnecessary or working at a slow rate. When a lawyer charges a flat rate, the exposure is known and anticipated.
How do I know whether a flat fee will cover everything?
Although Michigan law does not require attorney fee agreements to be in writing, you should NEVER hire an attorney who does not offer a written contract. Lawyers that do not use fee agreements are usually crooked and end up taking advantage of the client’s desperate circumstances by insisting on being paid more than was initially quoted or building in hidden fees.
If there is a Fee Agreement, the contract will identify any exceptions or additions in the contract. Since only a small percentage of cases actually go to trial, most reputable attorneys will charge separately for trial preparation and trial. By breaking up the fees in this manner, the client does not get charged for services never rendered. Finally, it is essential to note that attorney fees generally exclude costs, and you will have to pay for any of the lawyer’s out-of-pocket expenses.
What is the difference between an attorney’s fee and his or her costs?
Most fee agreements provide that a client must pay “costs” in addition to the attorney’s fees. Costs can include additional services like hiring a private investigator to conduct interviews and serve subpoenas, photocopies, mileage, and the cost of procuring discovery from the government, such as a charge to copy a DVD. Be sure to ask whether it is likely that you will have to pay for any costs and what the amount is expected to be.
Do criminal defense attorneys accept payment plans?
It depends on the attorney. A large percentage will ask for payment in full before they will agree to accept your case. Due to the difficulties in Michigan’s economy, the business of practicing law today is different than just a few years ago. If money is tight, but you want to hire a particular lawyer, do not be shy, and ask about any alternatives methods of payment or structured payment options. It can’t hurt to ask.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.