Your selection of which criminal defense lawyer to use might just turn out to be the most important decision you make in your entire life. In a worst-case scenario, choosing the wrong criminal defense lawyer could result in years behind bars. You must find a balance between moving with all due haste and not hiring a lawyer without properly investigating their credentials. Rely on both your intellect and your intuition.
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Factors To Consider
The last thing you need to do is hire “my cousin Vinnie” when your freedom and your reputation are at stake. Below is a description of some of the qualities to look for in a criminal defense lawyer. It is not a complete list.
Did You Select a Private Practice Attorney?
You have the constitutional right to an attorney in almost any criminal case. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for you. Nevertheless, you should avoid using a public defender if at all possible. Please don’t misunderstand—most public defenders are conscientious and competent. It’s just that most of them are so overworked that it is unlikely that they will have the time necessary to provide you with the best defense.
When it comes to private practice attorneys, don’t skimp. That doesn’t mean you should automatically select the most expensive attorney. It does mean that you shouldn’t be looking for bargain basement representation.
Does the Lawyer Focus on Criminal Defense Law?
Your attorney should focus primarily on criminal defense law. You don’t need a “jack-of-all-trades” attorney who will handle any case presented to them. Effective criminal defense requires considerable expertise, which comes from focusing a law practice primarily or completely on criminal defense.
Does the Lawyer Enjoy Rich Local Experience?
Is the lawyer licensed in Pennsylvania? If they do, good. But that is not enough. Does the lawyer have experience representing criminal defendants in the Philadelphia metro area? Many large national firms advertise that they have attorneys licensed in every state. Be careful about such firms because their attorneys might lack local connections beyond passing the local bar exam.
Choose a lawyer who has been practicing in Chester County for years. They also need experience in the particular court that will hear your case. If you are facing federal criminal charges, they will need experience with the federal criminal justice system and permission to appear in federal court. Ideally, they should know all the local players–judges, prosecutors, and fellow criminal defense attorneys.
Does the Lawyer Have Experience Working as a Prosecutor?
Experience as a prosecutor is a qualification that most criminal defense lawyers do not possess. It is a tremendous advantage at every stage of representation. At the very least, your lawyer should have access to a colleague with experience working as a prosecutor.
Prosecutors think very differently than defense attorneys. Experience as a prosecutor will help your lawyer predict how the prosecution will react to this or that defense tactic.
Does the Lawyer Exhibit Superior Communication Skills?
Did you leave your initial consultation confused or disoriented? Never mind if you are unfamiliar with the law—it is your lawyer’s job to make sure you understand it. If your lawyer cannot effectively communicate with you, how will they communicate with a jury?
It is almost impossible to underestimate the importance of communication skills for a criminal defense lawyer. This includes the ability to simplify complex concepts and the ability to use emotion to persuade a jury. There is almost nothing that a criminal defense lawyer does that doesn’t involve the use of communication skills.
Is the Lawyer Empathic?
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and value their well-being as much as you value your own. As intangible as it is, empathy in a criminal defense lawyer is supremely important. Empathy is the “X factor” that often differentiates between a successful and an unsuccessful representation.
A condescending or condemning attitude toward you is a major red flag. Does the lawyer seem to look down on you? If you are innocent, does the lawyer believe you? Does the lawyer appear to anticipate a quick plea bargain, or are they willing to fight for you?
To a large extent, you need to rely on your gut feeling. Do you feel comfortable with this lawyer? Do you like the lawyer? Above all, do they seem to care what happens to you? If they don’t, the representation is unlikely to be successful.
How To Prepare for an Initial Consultation
Observe the following tips to get the most out of your initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer:
- Don’t talk to the police, even if you are innocent. The police have a thousand ways of using your own words against you to make you look guilty.
- Don’t post about your case on social media. Better yet, suspend your social media accounts and ask your friends not to post about your case.
- Gather all the evidence you can, both positive and negative.
- Compose a chronological list of events and go over them so that you can recite them from memory
- Create a list of witnesses. This list should include witnesses that the prosecution might call against you—your lawyer needs to know the bad news as well as the good.
- Write down questions to ask your lawyer concerning the topics listed above.
- Before your consultation begins, confirm with the lawyer that your conversation will be confidential. This is necessary because, at the time of your consultation, you haven’t hired the lawyer yet.
- Prepare to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Once you confirm confidentiality, your attorney is legally responsible for keeping your secrets. Take advantage of the fact that the Pennsylvania legal system encourages defendants to speak candidly with their lawyers.
You are under no obligation to hire the lawyer, and you shouldn’t hire a lawyer you don’t like.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Innocent?
Ye. In fact, your innocence is all the more reason you need a lawyer. Unfortunately, innocent people go to prison with alarming frequency. Many of them went to prison because they tried to represent themselves or because they hired the wrong lawyer. Remember, the truth doesn’t matter in criminal court unless you can prove it. Although strictly speaking, you don’t have to prove your own innocence, as a practical matter, you may have to fight for your freedom.
Don’t Delay—Schedule an Initial Consultation With a West Chester Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Criminal prosecutions move quickly, and the consequences of missing a deadline could be catastrophic. If the state has arrested you or charged you with a crime, now is the time to act. Your lawyer should be able to visit you even if you are already in jail.