How to Pick a Criminal Defense Attorney

By Scaringi Law Associal Attorney, Erin Zimmerer

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"You have the right to an attorney."

This line is heard in countless TV shows and crime movies, leading many to take this right for granted. But if you're being investigated by police or charged with a crime, there's no more important protection than selecting the right criminal defense attorney.

Your legal representative could be the difference between moving on with your life, or paying a far higher price than you should.

If you are caught in the wheels of justice, first, keep your mouth shut with police. Second, hire an experienced defense attorney. These five tips can help you select the best lawyer for you:

1. Meet your prospective attorney in person.

There's no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. You need to know if you can trust and feel comfortable with this attorney.

It is important to find a representative who will not judge you and who accepts that everyone makes mistakes. Meeting in person helps establish a rapport and trust so the client is comfortable, confident and candid.

2. Honesty is the only policy.

Once you've found an attorney you feel comfortable with, level completely with this professional.

Attorney-client privilege means all the information you share is held in the strictest confidence. This includes the sometimes embarrassing details of sexual assault or child pornography allegations.

Armed with diagrams or whatever else an attorney needs to visualize a situation, all communication must be clear and complete so your attorney can provide you with the soundest legal advice, available options and best possible strategy.

3. Attorney-client meetings are best conducted in private.

Often, prospective clients bring a parent, sibling or spouse to a first meeting. Sometimes, this third party is the one paying for the service. But attorneys represent clients, and no one else --not even the person footing the bill.

As such, a third-party is welcome to sit in on a preliminary meeting, if the client agrees, but this sensitive conversation about the facts of the case should only take place between an attorney and client. An attorney can explain the case and recommended strategy to others later, if the client agrees.

Clients deserve this level of privacy. The client - and only the client -- should hear an honest assessment so they can decide how to proceed without undue influence from family or friends.

4. Never fall for scare tactics.

There are two extremes to beware of when considering a defense attorney. One is the attorney who promises a favorable outcome from the start - either an advantageous plea deal or an outright acquittal. The other is a lawyer who paints a dark, dire picture of your legal prospects - unless you hire him.

These attorneys aren't shooting straight -- a major red flag. Attorneys should offer no guarantees. That's because regardless of the facts, no one can predict what a judge or jury will do. Even when anticipating a plea offer, there is no certainty, because a judge must still accept it.

Look for an attorney who lays out realistic expectations in a frank, honest and open manner. If it sounds too good to be true - or if you feel someone is trying to frighten you into a quick decision - walk away.

5. Money isn't the only thing.

Eventually, every attorney-client meeting includes a discussion of legal fees. The cost of your criminal defense matters, and various attorneys compute their charges differently, but resist making your decision based purely upon price.

Approach this decision as a value proposition, balancing the experience and track record of each attorney with their cost.

Beware of attorneys offering a flat price for your case. Often, they have a reputation for readily accepting plea bargains to minimize the time they invest. It can be difficult to predict how many hours will be involved in a case, because it depends on whether the client accepts a plea or opts to press the case all the way to trial. This is the client's decision. Therefore, attorneys should only present the client with their legal options, along with a rough estimate of the hours and cost involved. The final decision is theirs.

Finally, don't retain a criminal defense attorney with no experience in the jurisdiction in which you are charged. The criminal justice system functions on working relationships among defense attorneys, prosecutors, police and judges. If your attorney lacks these local relationships, your legal representation will be lacking, too.

Included in a calculation of affordability must be the value the client places on freedom. What may seem like a bargain upfront isn't such a deal when it brings a longer prison sentence than the facts warrant. Weigh the skill, experience and reputation you are purchasing, against the price.

Remember: you, the client, are in control. It's your life.

Erin Zimmerer focuses her practice at Scaringi Law on criminal law, federal criminal law, and family law. She can be reached by calling 717-775-7195 or using our quick Contact Form.

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