HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I NEED A LAWYER?
Yesterday, AMC launched a spin-off of the show “Breaking Bad” which is about a criminal defense attorney and it is entitled “Better Call Saul.” Like most television shows, the program is designed to be entertaining, but not necessarily insightful. However, yesterday’s episode raised a great question: when do I need to hire a lawyer?
Sometimes the answer to this question is easy. Other times it can seem more complicated. Obviously someone who is seriously injured in an accident should contact an attorney immediately. The purpose of the attorney contact is not just to ensure that the injured person is treated fairly by insurance companies and the person who caused the injury, but also so that the injured person can learn about his or her rights and options.
At Berry Law, while we take great pride in advocating for our clients, we also take the time to educate them so they can make informed decisions as to whether to settle a case or whether to take it to trial.
While criminal cases are different than injury cases, the concept of educating the client is important in achieving the optimal result. In “Better Call Saul”, the attorney was asked by a person being investigated for a financial crime whether he would look guilty if he hired a lawyer even though no charges had been filed. The lawyer responded, “People that hire lawyers don’t look guilty, people who get arrested look guilty.”
While hiring a lawyer may or may not make a difference in the government’s decision to arrest, it certainly can make a difference in the outcome of the case.
Most criminal defendants do not have the luxury of hiring an attorney prior to arrest. I’m not referring to the financial ability to hire an attorney, but the lack of awareness of the pending investigation common in fraud cases, federal drug conspiracy cases, and child pornography cases. In these cases the defendant may not know he is the target of an investigation until he has been placed under arrest.
Some people that are aware that they are being investigated or are concerned they may have committed a crime, see hiring an attorney like paying for insurance. While we certainly do not like paying for medical insurance, homeowners insurance, auto insurance, and so forth, we sleep better at night knowing that that insurance we have will provide for us in the case of a catastrophe. While hiring an attorney may not prevent that legal catastrophe from coming, in some instances it gives the accused peace of mind that an attorney is providing advice as to what actions to take or not to take to get the best possible outcome. In the unfortunate event there is an arrest, there can be peace of mind in knowing that the attorney services have already been retained.
I have heard many commercials over the years from funeral homes about how stressful planning a funeral can be for a family. I have observed similar situations when a family is scrambling to find an attorney for a loved one who has recently been arrested. This can be a very difficult time for a family member who simply wants to get a son, daughter, husband, or significant other out of jail, but knows very little about the circumstances surrounding the case or the charges. In these instances, the family member is usually trying to contact law enforcement to find out what happened and is eventually directed to the county attorney’s office. Eventually the family learns that a loved one will be in jail until a large amount of money is posted as bond or bail. The family member has no idea about the bond process or the criminal justice process, he simply wants the loved one to come home.
Individuals who retain attorneys prior to the arrest generally have the opportunity to work with their attorney to plan for posting bond, getting out of jail, preparing a defense, and all the events in the timeline associated with a criminal case.
While it is certainly true that some people contact an attorney before they need one, most do not. It is usually not until an injured person feels that he has been mistreated by his insurance company or the person who injured him before an attorney is contacted. Similarly the person accused of a crime often remains in denial that something may happen or simply hopes for the best. While doing nothing is certainly a course of action, it is not a strategy. When you are facing a life changing event whether it be due to an injury or criminal charges, it is always best to have a plan. We can’t know what is going to happen in the future, but by having an attorney that is knowledgeable of our situation, we can at least take action to prepare based on the advice of someone who knows what could happen.