Choosing a Criminal Defense Lawyer
In part one of this two part article, I provided an overview of the criminal justice process in order to give a parent the ability to understand, in a general sense, what to expect if his or her child has been charged with a criminal offense. In this follow-up article, I will be providing things to consider before choosing a criminal defense lawyer to represent your child at this most important time in his/her life. These are not meant to be hard and fast rules, but instead, a list of considerations when talking to, and meeting with, prospective attorneys.
When your child has been charged with a crime, whether a summary or a felony, it is crucial to have able counsel by his/her side in order to properly advise, argue on behalf of, and protect his/her rights. In today’s culture, it is ever so easy to find a lawyer’s name and contact information. But what should you as a parent expect from an attorney, and what should you look for before hiring one? Hopefully, this article will lend some guidance.
Choosing the Right Lawyer
Find someone who works in the criminal field – All too often a family friend who is a (insert anything but criminal) lawyer is hired to represent someone in a criminal matter. Under the ethical rules that govern attorney conduct in Pennsylvania, any lawyer is permitted to take a case outside of their normal practice area if they can properly educate themselves and represent the accused competently. Still, ask yourself this question – “Would I go to a dentist if I was having a problem with my vision?” The answer is, no. Find someone who devotes a part, or all, of their practice to criminal law and who has the experience to understand the process and properly and efficiently help your child navigate it. This will help to ensure that the best possible outcome is reached.
Hire an attorney who works in the geographic area that your child was charged in – Sometimes the best attorneys are a few towns over. There is no doubt that there are great attorneys everywhere, but there is something to be said about finding an attorney who is well versed in the local Court rules, practices and procedures. It will eliminate the guesswork in your conversations and will provide for more productive preparation for upcoming Court dates and arguments. Each county in Pennsylvania has its own diversionary programs, Court procedures and rules – and these are just a few of the many things that vary county to county and Courtroom to Courtroom. The attorney you hire for your child should have some level of familiarity with the jurisdiction in which your child will be appearing.
Hire an attorney who is responsive and accessible – When you call a prospective attorney – if you don’t get a call back in a reasonable time-frame, cannot speak to the attorney on the phone directly about your case, or can’t get a meeting scheduled when you are inquiring about hiring them – assume that he/she will be that way for the remainder of the time they are representing your child. Unfortunately, there are attorneys who, once paid, become much less accessible. The only way to guard against this is to pay attention to how they behave during the initial interactions. Did they speak to you directly? Did they offer a meeting in a reasonable time-frame? This is an important time for you, your family, and your child. You should, and deserve to, have someone who you are paying available a reasonable amount of time for questions and direction. With that being said, remember that criminal lawyers are typically in and out of Court on a daily basis. Be courteous with the amount of times you call, and try to address all of your questions in groups instead of calling each time one question arises (unless it is an emergency, of course).
Know WHO you are hiring – If your initial meeting is with the lawyer who has his/her name on the door, ask him/her if they PERSONALLY will be appearing at Court on your child’s behalf. It is not uncommon to meet with the partner of the firm for the initial intake only to have an associate show up when it is time to go to Court. This is not always a bad thing (and remember, the partner likely started as an associate somewhere!) but it is something that should not be a surprise to your child. Ask those questions in the initial intake and ask to meet the associates who may appear on your child’s behalf. It will allow you to determine if you and your child feel comfortable with their representation. Your child should know who his/her lawyer is. You should know who is working on your child’s case. You and your child should get who you hired.
Hire someone who tells you what you need to hear not what you want to hear – Attorneys cannot promise specific results. It is an immediate red flag if someone is telling you that they guarantee you a certain disposition, plea deal, or to beat the charges outright. Promising to work hard for your child, explaining to you their depth of knowledge and experience with the type of case your child needs representation for, ensuring to explore every legal avenue for your child in their defense, these are all okay. Criminal defense is complex. Success in each case depends on MANY factors and is defined differently in each situation. Who is the assigned prosecutor? Who is the Judge? What are the charges? What does the victim want? Does your child have prior offenses or is this his first time in trouble? Who is the arresting officer? These are just a few. As you can see, with even these few variables alone (which are just the tip of the iceberg) it is incredibly hard to predict what will happen in a case. Beyond that, you don’t want an attorney who simply appeases your child and you to get your business when your child says “this case shouldn’t have been charged, the cop was wrong so it is going to go away, right?” It is important for an attorney to be able to have hard conversations with you and your child. To tell your child what he/she needs to hear, not what he/she wants to hear. This is the only way to ensure that your child is always making the right/best decisions throughout the process of his case. For example, if your child wants a trial because he believes he has a defense that can beat the case, the attorney should tell him if he is incorrect and explain why the plea deal that is being offered is better for him in the long run. Or the opposite when a case should be brought to trial.
You don’t HAVE to break the bank to get great representation – The best attorney costs the most money, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes a very busy attorney will charge higher prices because they do not have a lot of time to take new cases. It helps them be more selective when only some people will be able to afford their services. Or sometimes attorneys are simply just overpriced. The price tag is not the only sign of a good lawyer. Think about the above listed factors. There is no doubt, the top-tier criminal defense attorneys are likely going to be more expensive, and their results, reputation and experience demand that. Still, don’t discount any attorney because their fees are lower, and don’t think that price alone dictates talent. It surely does not. Incredibly expensive cars still have lemons from time-to-time, and sometimes, the most economical car is the one that will last the longest. Use price as a factor, but not the ONLY factor.
The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended solely for informational purposes.
Michael DiCindio is a West Chester criminal defense lawyer who represents individuals accused of crimes throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale.