Facing criminal charges can have long-lasting impacts on an individual’s reputation, relationships, career, and finances. Possible prosecution is a threat to a person’s livelihood and even to their freedom. Hiring a highly qualified criminal defense attorney will increase the odds of securing the best possible outcome in any criminal court case.
If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor, felony, or DUI offense, the criminal defense team at Berry Law is standing ready to help protect your rights and ensure your fair treatment by the justice system.
What is a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Criminal defense attorneys are lawyers who have studied criminal law and specialize in representing people accused of committing criminal offenses. They help clients navigate the court system when they’re having legal trouble and minimize the damage to a person’s personal life, career, relationships, finances, and reputation.
They typically begin by examining details of the case against a defendant, investigating the case for themselves, and researching existing laws that apply to the situation. They can also interview witnesses and experts on a client’s behalf and guide them through the overall legal process. Depending on the case, a criminal defense attorney may advise a client of possible plea bargains with prosecutors, or they may recommend taking a case to trial to potentially help avoid a conviction entirely.
Even after a case has reached its conclusion, a defense lawyer may be able to help clear a defendant’s record of any charges on which they were convicted. If the jury returns a not guilty verdict, or if the case is dismissed, an attorney can still help to ensure that records related to the case are destroyed in a timely manner so that they don’t prejudice future employers against the defendant.
Important Things to Consider When Retaining Legal Counsel
When an individual is charged with a serious criminal offense, it’s beneficial to have an attorney to provide representation. Criminal law is complex with many moving pieces, and a lawyer has the expertise needed to navigate those challenges. However, not all attorneys are equal, and you want to find someone who can best evaluate and work within your unique set of circumstances. Here are the top five things to consider before hiring an attorney:
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If you’ve been charged with a crime or are even under suspicion of committing one, it’s prudent to begin looking for a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. While it’s wise to shop around to ensure the best fit for your situation, don’t wait too long before hiring an attorney to represent you if you’ve been charged with a serious criminal offense.
Delaying can hurt a case and leave a defendant without protection or representation during police questioning. Also, building a solid defense takes time. You want to give your chosen attorney ample opportunity to prepare a case before it goes to trial. Your attorney can also work directly with you to build a defense prior to the court date.
Ask friends and family members who they would recommend for criminal defense in the Omaha area. They themselves or someone they know may have used a criminal attorney in the past, and recommendations are some of the highest endorsements a legal professional can receive. Ask the source of the recommendation what he or she liked and disliked about their experience with a particular attorney, as well as the outcome of those cases.
Although it’s true that you don’t want to rely entirely on the Internet to determine which attorney you should hire, conducting research online can be helpful. Law firm websites often indicate what type of law a litigator practices. Be sure to select those attorneys who specialize specifically in criminal defense, not in civil litigation cases. The public can also check the American Bar Association (ABA) website for a list of attorneys in the area.
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Some litigators may have experience in particular areas of criminal defense, such as tax fraud or embezzlement, drug cases, or sexual assault, or they may handle many different types of criminal offenses. Regardless, if you plan to mount a defense with the intention of going to trial, hire an experienced litigator with previous trial experience who has represented clients charged with the same or similar offenses you face.
Criminal defense attorneys speak the same language as prosecutors and judges, so they can communicate clearly during a time when you need transparent explanations most. They should be up-to-date on the latest case law, making them familiar with the most recent and relevant information available.
It can be advantageous to find a lawyer who has experience working in the courthouse where a defendant’s case is going to be tried. While the law is the same across the state, legal procedures tend to vary from courthouse to courthouse, and it’s helpful to have an attorney who knows how things work in regard to negotiating plea bargains and is familiar with local procedures and personnel.
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Mounting a winning defense can be pricey, but in criminal cases, the old saying ‘You get what you pay for’ is unfortunately true. The more experienced and successful an attorney is, the higher the price tag for their services is likely to be. The average criminal defense attorney costs approximately $200 per hour depending on their location.
The complexity of a case may also be a factor in how much an attorney charges a prospective client. A simple misdemeanor could cost very little, while a complicated felony offense that requires extensive research and interviews with experts could be much more. Before hiring an attorney, discuss his or her fee structure up front and consider how much you’re willing to spend for your legal defense.
Some attorneys are willing to negotiate their fees, while others are not. Some lawyers expect full payment up front or a partial payment by way of retainer before they will take your case, and others allow payment plans. It never hurts to ask if an attorney will work within your financial constraints. The worst they can say is no.
Private vs. Court-Appointed Attorney
You also have the option of using a court-appointed attorney, which will cost you nothing. The court will appoint an attorney to represent you if you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime. Court-appointed attorneys are government employees who receive no financial compensation outside of their government-issued paychecks for the work they do. Many lack the motivation or desire to fight aggressively or to put forth the effort to mount a strong, strategic defense.
Private contract representation may be another cost-effective option. It involves hiring an attorney who represents his or her client for a flat fee that is agreed upon by both parties before work on the case begins. In this arrangement, there are no time limits or restrictions when building a defense. However, private contract representation may not include extras like hiring expert witnesses or conducting extensive research into details of a case.
A defendant who chooses to hire private contract representation will still have the benefit of having an attorney’s input on defense strategy, while avoiding the shock of a huge bill at the end of their criminal matter. This could be a good option for crimes carrying lesser charges or if the goal is to negotiate a reduced sentence without investing too much money into the case.
Although hiring a private attorney is costly, it is usually the gold standard in criminal defense.
Many private criminal defense attorneys have had several years of experience working for the government prior to going into private practice, either as a prosecutor working in the District Attorney’s office or as a public defender, so they are very well versed in the criminal justice system.
With a private attorney, the client is paying for the benefit of having someone experienced at dealing with a large number of similar cases in his or her corner. A private criminal defense attorney brings a breadth and depth of information to the table that a court-appointed attorney or private contract attorney may not. They will also pull out all stops to hire outside experts who may bring important information to the jury that they may not otherwise hear.
Once the list of possible attorneys has been narrowed down, meet with potential lawyers before making a final decision. Most attorneys offer no or low-cost consultations for potential new clients.
During the consultation, ask questions about how the attorney views the attorney-client relationship, their fee structure, and anything else you need clarification on. The best attorney-client relationships occur when the client and the attorney are full partners in making decisions regarding the case.
Keep in mind, an attorney’s job is to advise clients on the legal aspects of a case so that they can make informed decisions on how to proceed. Their job is not to tell a client what to do. This person is going to be your voice during a time of your life when a lot is on the line, including your freedom. Gauge your comfort level with each attorney you interview and decide if you feel at ease with them before making a final selection.
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