Common Criminal Attorney Questions

  • Should I represent myself in a criminal case?

  • Do I need a lawyer at my arraignment?

  • Are lawyers available for defendants who can’t afford to pay for one?

  • How can I get a Court to appoint a lawyer for me?

  • How can I find a private defense lawyer?

  • What is a private lawyer likely to cost?

  • Can I change my lawyer if I’m unhappy with the one representing me?

Should I Represent Myself in a Criminal Case?

As a rule of thumb, you should represent yourself only if you are charged with a less severe offense such as an infraction. However, you should hire a lawyer if you are accused of a crime that leads to a jail sentence or a serious felony.

If you plan to represent yourself, you should first know the courtroom's location if you have no prior criminal charges. Planning a trip to the courtroom before your hearing will help you know the building's layout and help you find your way to the courthouse during the courthouse.

On the day of the hearing, dress professionally and turn off your cell phones and other devices that you might. Address the judge as "Your Honor" and avoid interrupting anyone in court. They will give you time to represent yourself, hence no need to argue with anyone.

Remember, the court does not allow all evidence presented by the defendant. The judge will recommend the kind of evidence that you can use and the one you should leave out. This should not frustrate you but continue the case with the evidence at hand. If you intend to support your evidence with paperwork, ensure that you have relevant copies with you and are enough for the court and the opposing party.

There are risks of representing yourself, although it might seem to be a great idea. For instance, you might be unable to follow all the required procedures and bring your case to trial or defend yourself, helping the prosecution side win their case against you. Also, you might fail to meet all the technical requirements to prove and establish your defense. That's why it is essential to assess the case presented against you to determine whether you can represent yourself or seek an attorney's help.

Do I need a lawyer at My Arraignment?

A court arraignment is a proceeding where an accused is advised of his or her charges. The defendant is also asked whether to enter a plea to the accusations. In most cases, the court decides whether the accused should be released besides having a pending trial during an arraignment.

Arraignment should occur within the shortest time possible without delay. Any unreasonable delay violates the defendant’s right to a speedy trial as provided under the Federal Constitutional Sixth Amendment. If the plea bargain is not scheduled within a reasonable period, your attorney should ask for dismissal of your case due to the delay. The judge will review the reason behind the delay and decide whether they were unreasonable to qualify for discharge.

How the court conducts an arraignment varies according to the state's law and its constitution. However, most states use this step to:

  • Advise the accused of his or her constitutional rights

  • Advise the accused of his or her charges

  • Enter a plea. A defendant can enter a guilty, not guilty, or no contest plea. Defendants usually plead guilty to minor crimes like disorderly conduct. In a not guilty plea, the defendants disagree with the charges and require the state to prove the charges made against them. In a no-contest plea, the defendant admits not guilty but admits that the prosecution team has substantial evidence that demonstrates that he or she has committed the crime

  • Setting release conditions

Based on the expectations of an arraignment, it is always necessary to seek a lawyer's help. An attorney should help you in the following ways:

  • Explain the bail process and connect you with someone who can have you released

  • Guide you through your summons since they can be frustrating and confusing

  • Represent you in court if you cannot find time to appear in court

  • Ensure that you get favorable conditions for your release. For instance, if the prosecutor is requesting a mandatory installation of an ignition interlock in your DUI case, your attorney will ask for an alcohol evaluation before your arraignment. This would probably help in avoiding harsher conditions of your release

  • Keep you apprised of your court dates to avoid negatively impacting your case by failing to appear for an arraignment

Most people prefer proceeding to an arraignment without a lawyer. However, before representing yourself, confirm that you can handle everything all by yourself without any challenge. Yet, you should have one, whether appointed by the court or retained privately.

Are Lawyers Available for Defendants who Can’t Afford to Pay for One?

Everyone has the right to an attorney in a criminal proceeding under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Therefore, the court might appoint an attorney to offer free legal representation or at an affordable fee, if your case carries a prison or jail sentence. However, some courts hold this right not only when there is an imminent jail or prison sentence but also if someone has been charged. Other states hold this right in the circumstances like when the accused is at risk of a specific amount of fine.

Most states have their public defenders to help criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney. Public defenders have been licensed to represent indigent defendants. Most public defendants are experienced since they regularly appear in courts and have represented several clients.

If the public defender cannot hold your case, the court usually contacts local private firms to handle your case. The court can also maintain several lawyers and rotate them to represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys.

How Can I Get a Court to Appoint a Lawyer for Me?

If you expect the court to appoint an attorney at their expense, you should request the court to designate one on your behalf. However, you must provide your financial information to prove that you cannot afford a private attorney. The opportunity to formally request a court-appointed attorney comes during your bail hearing or arraignment. The judge will start by asking whether a lawyer represents you, and if not, whether you would like one to be appointed for your case.

Every state or county has its own rules for determining how to qualify for a court-appointed legal counsel. These rules usually consider the seriousness of the alleged crime. You can still get a court-approved counsel even if you still earn a decent wage to hire a private lawyer. However, the judge will recommend a court-appointed attorney if you face serious charges and your wages aren't enough to afford a suitable attorney.

Suppose your income is not high enough to bear a private lawyer's expenses and is not relatively low to qualify for a free attorney. In that case, the judge may decide on 'partial indigency.' This means that you are eligible for a court-appointed attorney but must reimburse the government for a portion of the expenses incurred.

If you are skeptical of whether a court-appointed lawyer is good enough, you should know that they are skilled and deeply committed to offering their clients the best services. Most public defenders have more courtroom experience than private attorneys and have a long-standing working relationship with judges and prosecutors making them a reliable option.

The only downside you should be worried about is the tendency to have an enormous caseload, which leaves them overstretched and lacking enough time to devote to a particular client. In contrast, private hired criminal defense attorneys have the luxury to devote their time to the necessity of a client's situation.

How can I Find a Private Defense Lawyer?

Finding a private defense lawyer can be challenging, especially if you have no prior legal experience, and there is a short timeline to find one. However, your goal should be finding the right attorney despite the challenges at hand. This means that you should have reliable sources for your referral that can help you narrow down to the right attorney. You can rely on referrals such as:

  • Consult attorneys you know: If you have criminal defense lawyers you can trust, you can ask them for criminal defense attorney's recommendations. You can also rely on a civil attorney to represent you in your case, but with the limited intention of seeking your release during the arraignment

  • Friends and family members: Your friend or a family member, can be resourceful in recommending a reliable defense attorney. They can also look for an attorney on your behalf, especially if they have the first-hand experience with your situation

  • Legal Referral Services: Legal referral services can also be a suitable source of referrals you can use to find a suitable private criminal defense attorney. Most of these referral services cautiously evaluate lawyers and list them according to their qualifications, experience, and other aspects that define their good standing. Search for your ideal attorney from the local state bar association website

  • Courthouses: Visit your local court and attend several proceedings to choose an attorney who fits you best. Once the proceeding is done, request for the attorney’s business card to schedule a meeting

What is a Private Lawyer likely to Cost?

It isn't easy to conclusively answer this question since lawyers set their fees based on the following factors:

  • Experience and specialization in a specific area of law

  • The intricacy of your case

  • The number of hours that you expect the lawyer to work in your case

  • The number of support and additional lawyers that you expect your attorney to add to represent you adequately

  • The location of the attorney

On average, attorneys fees range between $100 to $400 per hour based on the case type. Out of the average amount that you should pay, you might be expected to pay a considerable portion as your upfront fee.

Please note, besides the basic charges included in the attorney’s fee, you should expect additional expenses that include:

  • Traveling expenses

  • Photocopying

  • Cost of serving court papers to the plaintiff

  • Mailing postage

  • Filing fees

Like any bills received by a client, your attorney’s invoice can be inaccurate and may include costs you did not expect. If there is a dispute, you should look for state-offered means to arbitrate your disputed fees with the attorney.

Can I Change lawyers if I’m Unhappy with the One Representing Me?

It's rare for a judge to grant a defendant's request to change a court-appointed attorney or public defendant. It is uncommon to experience disagreements between defendants and government-paid attorneys unless the situation involves serious schism between yourself. Incompetence is another usual basis of the need for a change, although it is rare.

You can fire your private attorney at will without approval from the court. You do not have to demonstrate any reasonable reason for the firing. Some of the valid reasons that might make you change your attorney include:

  • Rudeness and failure to answer your questions

  • Lack of interest in resolving your case

  • Questioning of the attorney's incompetence

  • Unethical behavior from the attorney

Before you change your criminal attorney, look for another one whom you are comfortable with and is willing to have your case transferred to them. Hire the attorney, and send a written notice to your current attorney about your decision. The written statement should ask the attorney to stop working on your case and transfer its files to the new attorney.

If you haven't found another attorney to handle your case, you should attempt to work with the current one and see if they can refer you to another attorney due to your unease with their representation. Most attorneys are willing to help their clients seek another attorney if they feel unsatisfied with their legal counsel.

Changing a lawyer is costly since you have to consider your new lawyer's expenses and pay whatever portion owed to the original lawyer. Therefore, you must be willing to incur these costs before you decide on the new attorney.

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