How Much Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Cost?
If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor, felony, or DUI offense in Omaha, you may be wondering what it will cost to defend yourself against these allegations. While mounting a winning defense can be expensive, hiring a seasoned criminal defense attorney will generally yield better outcomes than trying to go it alone. A lawyer has intimate working knowledge of the criminal justice system and can guide you through the process.
Omaha’s premier criminal defense team at Berry Law will exhaust every avenue to defend your freedom and pursue justice. They can explain your rights and discuss the best options for your situation with you while showing sensitivity to financial considerations. If you’ve been accused of or charged with a criminal offense, contact the attorneys at Berry Law immediately so you can get on with your life.
What Will it Cost to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney in Omaha?
Since law firms determine their own billing practices, it’s difficult to give an exact cost for a criminal defense attorney’s services. There really are no such thing as standard legal fees, and the costs described here are simply estimates based on averages in the Midwest.
There are many factors that contribute to the cost of defending a criminal case:
Complexity of the Case
Cases that will involve extensive investigation or research, or that may require the hiring of witnesses or experts will typically cost more than less complex cases.
For example, it’s not uncommon for an attorney who is defending a DUI charge to hire a specialist in the field of chemical testing to explain the results of a Blood Alcohol Content analysis at trial. In the case of a legal insanity defense, a psychologist may be called to testify on the defendant’s behalf. These experts and witnesses typically charge large retainer fees up front and then bill at $300 per hour or more, so fees for their services can add up quickly.
Gravity of the Charges
Misdemeanor offenses are generally less expensive than felony cases to defend. Fewer hours go into defending a simple theft charge versus capital murder.
Likelihood of Going to Trial
If a case is not dismissed or the defendant doesn’t take a plea bargain, the case will go to trial. The preparation for and execution of trial litigation is time consuming and costly.
Number of Court Appearances
Attorneys bill for both work done in the office to prepare a case for court, but also for the time spent in the courtroom. Multiple appearances in court can contribute to the cost of defending a case.
Number of Motions Filed
Motions filed to dismiss and suppress evidence are an important part of litigation. The exclusion of such evidence can lead to dropped charges or a better outcome if the case does go to trial. However, filing such motions costs time and money.
Attorney Skill Level
Generally speaking, the more experienced and successful an attorney is, the higher the price tag for their services. The years that a litigator has practiced criminal law, a known track record of wins, and the depth of their experience will all factor into their fee structure.
While it may be tempting to go with the lowest bidder, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is true when it comes to criminal defense. This may not be the time to cut corners to save a buck, especially if your freedom is on the line. You want an attorney with a background in criminal defense and experience successfully litigating criminal cases.
Also, keep in mind that an experienced attorney may be able to resolve a case in fewer billable hours than a novice, so even at a higher rate, you may end up saving money.
Where an attorney practices law will often determine their fees as well, with lawyers centered around large metropolises typically charging more than those in rural locations.
How Do Criminal Defense Attorneys Determine Their Fees?
Most attorneys who specialize in criminal defense charge either an hourly rate or a flat fee. The best fee structure is the one that works best for you and your circumstances. Don’t hesitate to ask how your attorney will bill you for work done on your case up front and be honest regarding how much you’re willing to pay for your legal defense.
Bill by the Hour
Hourly billing may be a good option if your case can be resolved quickly, but if complications arise, this fee structure could lead to larger than expected legal bills. Attorneys will often charge an hourly rate when they anticipate that a case will be particularly complex because they want to have the ability to go to any length to defend it.
The average criminal defense attorney charges approximately $200-$300 per hour in the Midwest, with some charging more or less. Hourly billing typically covers attorney fees for work done in the office, including short phone calls and emails to and from stakeholders in the case, as well as time spent in court.
A retainer is an upfront advance payment or deposit that covers legal fees as work is completed on a case, and an attorney may ask for a large retainer up front before he or she agrees to take your case. The amount of the retainer usually reflects the attorney’s hourly rate. So for example, an attorney who charges $200 per hour may require a 10-hour retainer of $2,000 to begin work. It’s a good idea to ask whether you will receive any unused portion of your retainer back if your case is resolved with one phone call. Once the retainer is exhausted, a client is billed by the hour.
Hourly billing can provide an incentive for attorneys to devote more time to you case. You may consider this a good or bad thing, depending on whether or not you can afford the extra billable hours. It certainly puts a defendant at an advantage from a legal standpoint, however, legal bills on an hourly rate can easily add up to $10,000-$15,000 per month in some cases.
When billing, most firms break an hour up into quarters, or 15-minute increments. An attorney who charges $200 an hour would then charge $50 for 15 minutes, or a quarter hour, of their time spent working on your case.
You can expect to pay on average $2,000-$3,000 for a simple misdemeanor defense and up to $10,000 to $100,000 for a serious felony, such as murder. The difference in price is largely based on the charges that are leveraged against the defendant in a case. For example, a misdemeanor drug possession defense may only cost around $3,500, while a more serious felony drug possession charge can run $25,000 or more. And if your attorney has extensive experience and a record of success in criminal litigation, expect to pay an additional $35,000-$100,000 for their services.
An attorney who has worked in criminal defense for some time can typically give you a rough estimate of the number of hours they expect a case will require of them. It’s appropriate to ask for an estimate of how much time your case will take before agreeing to an hourly billing structure.
For lesser offenses like DUI or theft, an attorney may charge a flat fee to defend a case. This practice is sometimes referred to as private contract representation because a fee for legal services is negotiated between attorney and client before the attorney agrees to take the case.
A flat-rate billing structure may be a good option in scenarios where the defendant is facing a lesser charge or if the goal is to negotiate a reduced sentence without going to trial and investing thousands of dollars in a legal defense. One positive of flat-rate billing is that the client will know exactly how much it will cost for their representation and there’s no chance of surprise bills at the conclusion of the case.
This type of billing structure doesn’t depend on time limits or restrictions. The attorney agrees to finish the case regardless of whether the hours he or she works exceeds the agreed upon fee. On the other hand, this type of agreement doesn’t usually include extras like expert witnesses or specialists who might help bolster your case in court.
Flat fee billing may also be non-refundable, even if a case takes significantly less time than predicted. This has the potential to leave clients feeling like they paid more than if they had been billed by the hour.
For a simple misdemeanor case, expect to pay a flat rate between $1,500 and $3,500. If that case ends up going to trial, a courtroom defense strategy will run $3,000-$5,000. Felony charges that are expected to settle out of court may be billed at a flat rate of $3,000-$6,000, while a felony criminal trial case could be $10,000-$20,000 under this fee structure, with something like a murder charge running closer to $40,000-plus to litigate.
A defendant may also agree to an hourly fee up to an agreed-upon fixed sum, which would be a combination of the hourly billing structure and a flat-rate fee. The client would then have to decide if they wanted to continue to put money into the case once the agreed-upon sum was exhausted.
What Else Can I Expect to Pay During an Ongoing Criminal Defense Case?
Attorney fees typically only cover the work done by your legal team. In addition to their labor, you may be charged for trial fees and court costs separately. Other common expenses that are frequently billed to the client include filing fees, expert witness testimony, investigator fees, copying fees, and subpoena fees.
How Can I Save Money on My Defense?
Some people try to save money by defending themselves against criminal charges. Unless you have a law degree, this is generally not a good idea. Criminal law is complex, and a lawyer has the expertise to navigate the criminal justice system. They also have an objective perspective and can see a case from every angle. Even other attorneys hire representation when they need legal assistance themselves.
You may qualify for legal aid. Legal aide is free, legal advice provided to you by a public defender who is assigned by the court to represent defendants that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford an attorney. If you do have the means to hire private representation, it’s usually advisable. Court-appointed attorneys are government employees who don’t earn anything for taking your case beyond their government-issued paycheck. They may not have an incentive to work hard to represent your best interests.
Another way to save money is to keep communication with your attorney to a minimum and only consult with him or her on an as-needed basis. When you’re billed at an hourly rate, even short phone calls and emails to check in can quickly add up.
What Should I Know About Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Facing criminal charges can impact your reputation, relationships, career, and finances. Hiring a qualified criminal defense attorney will greatly increase the likelihood of a desired outcome in a criminal case because an attorney can ensure that you are treated fairly and protect your rights.
Most attorneys offer low-or-no-cost consultations so you can meet them and decide if they are a good fit for your needs. While cost shouldn’t be the sole determining factor in choosing a criminal defense attorney, it’s probably one of them.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions, including whether an attorney bills at an hourly rate or charges a flat fee, whether they require a retainer up front, and whether or not they will accept payment on a payment plan. Some attorneys are willing to negotiate their fees, while others are not.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on how the money is being used to contribute to your defense either. While you don’t want to feel rushed into hiring an attorney and are likely looking for the best representation for your money, time is important when it comes to criminal cases. It’s critical to hire an attorney as soon as possible after learning that you are facing criminal charges.
Although mounting a strong legal defense can feel cost prohibitive, the odds of winning a criminal case are greatly increased when your attorney isn’t restricted by the number of billable hours they can work and also has the ability to hire private investigators and expert witnesses who can testify on your behalf. Be prepared to financially commit to your defense.
When considering how a criminal conviction can change the trajectory of your life, the expense is worth the long-term investment to maintain your freedom. Call today to retain valuable help.