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Choosing a criminal defense attorney can be the one of the most important decisions of your life.

From trustworthiness to expertise, we discuss the most important things to know when choosing someone to represent you in a criminal case.

Let’s go over how to pick a criminal defense attorney.

Do You Actually Need an Attorney?

Not every criminal charge requires that criminal defense attorney be hired. However, there’s rarely a time when a consultation is unwarranted. The benefits of a consultation are the following:

  1. You get an explanation of the charges and an assessment of the severity.
  2. An attorney can lay out defense strategies you might use.
  3. You learn whether or not there are any plea bargain opportunities.
  4. What to do in the event that you’re convicted.

This knowledge will help you decide whether or no you can risk handling the case without the help of a defense attorney. Traffic violations, for example, may not require the assistance of an attorney, but a felony almost certainly needs to be overseen by one.

What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

Knowing what a criminal defense attorney does will help you pick one. These attorneys specialize in representing people who have been charged with a crime. Typically, the attorneys represent those who have had charges brought by local, state, or federal governments against them. They handle the following:

  1. Determine whether your case can be dismissed or figure out if a plea bargain is possible and desired.
  2. File motions that impact your the case before trial, as well as, file motions to lessen the charges, if possible.
  3. Represent you in court should your case go to trial.

Do You Need a State or Federal Attorney?

State attorneys represent you when you have allegedly broken a state law. If you have violated a federal law, you will need the services of a federal attorney. Examples of state cases include traffic violations, contract disputes, family law, etc. Federal cases can include issues like bank robbery, drug conspiracy, wire fraud, and immigration fraud.

Keep in mind that federal cases require serious attention because the attorneys for these cases are part of the United States Attorney’s Office. Generally, these attorneys have generous resources to devote to cases they see as win-able.

Should You Speak with a Public Defender?

A public defender is an attorney who is granted to a defendant who usually cannot afford a defense attorney.  Oftentimes, if you qualify for court-appointed counsel and the public defender is appointed to represent you, you will have excellent counsel and need not look elsewhere. 

Still, consulting private counsel is not always a bad idea if you need a second opinion on your case or you have poor relationship with court-appointed counsel.  However, beware, some private attorneys are more motivated by fees than giving an honest appraisal of your case.

Choose an Attorney by Specialty

If you determine that your case would be best directed by a criminal defense attorney, look for one with experience in the charge you face.

Most state bar associations have search functions. Like doctors, attorneys tend to specialize in particular types of legal issues.

A lawyer experienced with financial legal defense may have little experience defending a murder case.  Here’s how to locate that attorney.

How to Research Defense Attorneys

Find out what professional organizations lawyers belong to in your area. Consult them for recommendations. Ask friends and family who may have used a criminal defense attorney for their recommendations.

You may ask other lawyers if they can recommend a reputable attorney. Bottom line is to make sure that any attorney you consider is qualified and credentialed. Once again, look into your state’s bar association.

Personality Matters

When considering a particular attorney, make sure that he or she is well-spoken. This person will be arguing on your behalf. Consider their experience and whether they have been successful in cases like yours in the past. Prioritize honest and ethical behavior in an attorney.

Red Flags

Be wary of any attorney that is quick to guarantee a particular result for your case. No attorney can assure this sort of guarantee, especially without considering all the evidence for and against your case. Lawyers should be able to set honest expectations rather than appease you.

Consider the Cost

There are several ways in which a defense attorney can charge to represent you. Some of these include charging by the hour, flat fees, and different fees for different aspects of the case.

Much of these fees are highly variable. Also note what other members will make up your legal team and how they will be paid, paralegals and investigators for example.

Expect to pay more if your case is complex. Also, flat fees are not generally recommended for complex cases. Felony cases are generally the most expensive to defend, so be prepared to pay accordingly.

Create a List of Questions

You will want to have a list of questions for any prospective attorney. First and foremost, you will want to know about fees and how payments are scheduled. Then, you will want to know what sort of strategy would work best for your case. Here, he or she can go over plea bargains and other negotiations. You should ask about alternatives so that you know the extent of your options.

Ask the attorney to make a case for why he or she should represent you in this matter. Find out what your next steps would be. Remember that consultations don’t require you to hire an attorney. You should schedule at least a few consultations with different attorneys.

Talk Openly but Don’t Take the Lead

Remember that you’ve hired someone for their expertise, so use it by heeding their advice. The best thing you can do is let your attorney lead your defense and take advantage of their experience. Defendants can complicate their case by making statement, contacting witnesses, or offending a judge.

How to Pick a Criminal Defense Attorney

Choosing a criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between imprisonment and freedom. We hope these tips help you, should you ever need to select an attorney for this purpose.