If you have been arrested or accused of a crime that has the potential of jail or prison time, you may want to seriously consider hiring an attorney to represent you. Unless you don’t mind the possibility of spending time in jail, you’ll probably want the services of an attorney.
Almost any expert will strongly advise a person against representing him or herself in court unless they are very knowledgeable about the field of law; and even then he or she will still be discouraged from representing him or herself for a criminal case. Less than one percent of people represent themselves in a criminal case. The vast majority of people engage the services of an attorney. That is because it is very difficult for someone to represent him or herself in court.
You wouldn’t want someone without any knowledge of how to do heart surgery doing a heart transplant on you would you? Likewise, would you want to represent yourself in court and face possible prison time without having the best possible legal advice available to you?
If a person cannot afford to hire an attorney the court will appoint an attorney, typically called a public defender. The constitution of the United States requires a person be provided with legal representation if they cannot afford it. But it is only required if a person is facing possible jail or prison time. If a person is only facing the possibility of a fine, the court is not required to provide the defe
dant with an attorney.
A court appointed attorney may not cost the defendant any money or the defendant may receive the court appointed attorney at reduced fees. It depends on the income of the defendant. If a person wants a public defender they will be required to fill out financial documents for the court to determine whether or not they qualify for a public defender and also whether or not that they receive the services of the public defender for free or at a reduced cost.
If a person qualifies for a reduced cost court appointed attorney, it is generally called a partial indigency. At the conclusion of their case, the judge will require the defendant to reimburse the county or state for a specific portion of their legal fees. The rates are usually much lower than those charged by private defense attorneys.
If you do not qualify for a court appointed attorney and are hiring one on your own, how do you find one? Personal recommendations from people you know are almost always the best way to find an attorney. Other sources of information to help find a criminal attorney are: Internet, Yellow Pages, your civil practice attorney, your local bar association lawyer referral panel (if they have one) and the Martindale-Hubbell publications.
The Martindale-Hubbell publications are available at most libraries and on the Internet. The publications do their best to list every attorney in the US by geographical area and lists the area or areas of law that attorney specializes in.
When hiring a criminal attorney on your own, try to interview several attorneys before hiring one or ask your family and friends help you. It is important to find an attorney you feel comfortable discussing all aspects of your case with. Some defense attorneys offer a no cost personal interview consultation. One thing to remember when hiring an attorney: make sure you hire an attorney who specializes in your area of criminal law.
Most attorneys will require an up-front retainer fee which can be a significant amount depending on the type of criminal case you have.
Some attorneys charge a set fee for handling a specific type of case. But it is more common for an attorney to charge by the hour. Some attorneys who charge by the hour will set a cap fee for the case. That means a sum will be agreed on that is the highest amount the defendant has to pay. If the hourly costs reach this set amount, the lawyer will finish representing the defendant through to the completion of the case without charging any more money.
Although contingency fees, which are where an attorney only gets paid if he or she wins the case, are common with certain types of civil cases, they are not used with criminal cases. Contingency fees are considered unethical and are not permitted in criminal cases.
In addition to knowing what fees an attorney will be charging, a defendant also needs to know what services those fees cover and do not cover. Fees such as the cost of expert witnesses are normally not included in the normal fees of an attorney.
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