January 2, 2015 – West Chester, Pennsylvania – DiCindio Law, LLC is a law firm that focuses the majority of its practice on representing individuals charged with crimes in West Chester, Chester County, and the surrounding areas in Pennsylvania. As the sole member and head of the firm, Michael D. DiCindio, Esq. puts his passion for the law and dedication to his client’s interests into every case he handles. Recently, Michael D. DiCindio, Esq. was voted a “Top Attorney” in the field of Criminal Defense by Suburban Life Magazine.
Suburban Life Magazine published its list of top attorneys from the Philadelphia area in the December 2014 issue. Readers were invited to cast votes to help compile what the magazine referred to as, “a definitive list of attorneys to turn to for help and guidance when they need it most.”
As a former prosecutor, Michael knows what his clients should expect when facing prosecution. He tirelessly analyzes his client’s cases and prides himself on being an accessible and caring legal counselor to them – and an aggressive advocate of their rights.
More information about Attorney Michael D. DiCindio, Esq. and the cases his firm handles can be found on the firm’s website: https://www.dicindiolaw.com
More than 275 of the keenest legal minds in the Philadelphia area were voted “Top” in their fields when Suburban Life Magazine “asked readers to share their opinions on which attorneys excel in various areas of practice—from antitrust to zoning, and everything in between—and they did not disappoint. Hundreds of readers cast votes to help compile a definitive list of attorneys to turn to for help and guidance when they need it most”. Read the full list of Top Nominated Attorneys in the Philadelphia area. Michael DiCindio is honored to be voted a “Top Criminal Attorney” by Suburban Life Magazine’s readers.
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.
Often times in a criminal case in Chester County, or any of the surrounding counties, prosecutors will attempt to introduce evidence of an accused’s prior bad acts, or evidence or other crimes. This can be devastating to a successful defense in a criminal case. This may happen in a case where identity is at issue or where intent is an element that the Commonwealth must be prove – among others. One of the common times that this would happen would be in a case of violence where the charges are simple assault or aggravated assault and the Commonwealth must prove that the attack was intentional.
By law, before the Commonwealth may introduce these “prior bad acts” they must first put the criminal defendant on notice. Typically, this required notice is accomplished by advising an accused’s criminal defense lawyer that they intend to do so. This evidence in a criminal case, if admitted, is not permitted to be used to show a criminal defendant’s “bad character”, or to say, “they have done it once, now they have done it again.” Because of the intricacies of this type of argument and the great potential impact having these “prior acts” introduced into evidence may have on a criminal case, it is crucial that an individual accused of a crime have an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to analyze the case, the facts, the law and argue against allowing this type of evidence being admissible.
Your past should not be used to help prove new criminal accusations against you.
Evidence of an accused’s other crimes, wrongs, or bad acts, is generally not admissible solely to show action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion in a criminal case. See Pa.R.E. 404. More specifically, this evidence is inadmissible to prove a defendant’s propensity to commit the crime for which he is being tried. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(1); see also Commonwealth v. Lockcuff, 813 A.2d 857, 860 (Pa. Super. 2002). Evidence of other crimes may however be admissible when the evidence serves a legitimate evidentiary purpose, and is not merely offered to prejudice the defendant. See Commonwealth v. Weakley, 972 A.2d 1182, 2009 Pa. Super 74 (2009). It is a skilled criminal defense attorneys job to argue against allowing this type of evidence into a criminal case.
The Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence provide a non-exhaustive list of legitimate evidentiary purposes that past crimes may be admitted to prove. See Pa. R.Evid. 404(b). Of those listed, other crimes of an accused may be admitted to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2). Further, while one or more admissible purpose must be present before evidence of an accused’s prior bad acts can be admitted, even if a legitimate evidentiary purpose is found by a Court, the evidence still is admissible only if the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for unfair prejudice. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2). Therefore, a criminal defense attorney must be prepared to know the law and argue effectively against one of the enumerated purposes, or other legitimate evidentiary purpose, and also be prepared to show the Court why the evidence a prosecutor is attempting to admit has a potential for unfair prejudice that outweighs the probative value.
When the Commonwealth places a criminal defendant on notice that it intends to introduce evidence of “prior bad acts” often times a criminal defense attorney must file a motion in limine in order to ask the Court to address the argument and make a determination as to the admissibility of the evidence the Commonwealth seeks to introduce. A criminal defense lawyer is needed to effectively and aggressively defend against this type of evidence being ruled admissible.
***This blog is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used, nor is it meant to be, as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.***