Most people go their whole lives without ever having contact with law enforcement save for the random, minor traffic ticket. For others, getting in trouble is a matter of routine occurrence and the judicial system is no mystery. About 90% of the population have absolutely no idea what to do when trouble strikes and they find themselves charged with a crime or a major traffic offense like a DUI.
TIPS IF YOU GET STOPPED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT
Here are a couple of tips when you get stopped by law enforcement:
First – say absolutely nothing that’s going to get you into further trouble. Exercise your right to remain silent when it comes to more than routine questions. While law enforcement will often ask you questions about the suspected crime, what you say will often get you into more trouble than not. For instance, if you get stopped for speeding, one question law enforcement asks frequently is, “Where were you coming from?” When your response is “the bar down the road”, the next question will be, “How much have you had to drink tonight?” The common response from just about all of my DUI clients has been “two drinks”. And that’s all the officer needs to hear before your routine speeding ticket turns into a DUI arrest.
Second – be polite and cooperative. While this may appear to go against the advice just given above, you can respond to questions with “yes, officer” and “no, officer” and “here’s my license” without being rude or raising your voice. You’re not volunteering information about yourself, but you must be polite and cooperative at all times. Being a police officer today is stressful; don’t make it more stressful for police by being a jerk.
ONCE YOU ARE CHARGED
If you are arrested and charged with a crime or major traffic violation, you’re entitled to counsel at all stages of the proceedings against you. Unless you’re eligible for release on a citation, you’ll be brought before a judicial officer for the setting of a bond or a determination that there will be no bond set. Unless the bond review was before a judge, you’ll have a bond review before a judge. If your case is a felony, in all likelihood you’ll have a date set for a preliminary hearing. If a misdemeanor or a felony within the jurisdiction of the District Court (in Maryland), your case will be set for trial. If you were released on a citation or charged without being arrested, you’ll have an initial appearance date for the court to advise you of your right to counsel. The following hearings will be adversarial with the state either contesting whatever motions were filed by you (or your attorney), or the actual trial. It is possible that sometimes you’ll be charged with a crime and no know it until you receive a summons in the mail from the court informing you of charges.
WHY SHOULD YOU HIRE COUNSEL
With all of the goings on in the justice system, you should understand that a lawyer can be of great assistance in determining defenses, filing motions to suppress and dismiss charges based upon various possible rights violations, providing you with a level playing field when the case goes to trial, and helping you get a fair sentence if you get convicted. Attorneys are not magicians and cannot waive a magic wand to make your charges go away. (Note: if you speak to an attorney who makes promises about the outcome of your case – get it in writing and know that you’re being swindled!) The state prosecutors are not your friend and will not help you – only an experienced defense attorney can navigate the best outcome for your case.
HOW TO HIRE THE RIGHT ATTORNEY
So, understanding all this, how does one choose the right attorney?
One good way to find an attorney is to search Google, AVVO, or other online media. Plug in key words about your charges and the location of your offense. You’ll likely have a dozen or more names pop up. Start your research there and begin to look up each attorney to learn more about their practice, experience, and client reviews.
Another common way that people charged with crimes learn of attorneys is through direct mailings. Many attorneys utilize services that cull the names and addresses of those charged with crimes and send letters out. While there are mixed views on these mailings, know that it’s just another way to market services to those who perhaps may not learn of the attorney’s services through the internet. I’ve even had clients call who had no idea they were charged with a crime until my letter arrived.
The best way to find an attorney is often through the referral of friends and relatives who may have been in trouble in the past.
Once you find one or two attorneys, meet with them and get a feel for their personality and yours. If you can’t get along in your first meeting, it won’t get any better down the road. If the attorney you meet with isn’t forthright and upfront about your case, you need to walk away. As mentioned earlier, if the attorney you meet with makes promises to “get you off”, you should run, not walk, away and find someone else. Until the attorney has all of the police reports, videos, witness statements, and other state’s discovery, there’s no way the attorney can rely just on the facts presented by you in making a decision on the merits of your case. A good attorney will tell you all the good, bad, and ugly that can happen in your case and share similar experiences.
PAYING FOR REPRESENTATION
The next issue becomes the cost of representation. Criminal cases require payment of the retainer up front. Sometimes attorneys will allow you to make payments, but this is rare and usually reserved for clients who the attorney knows from prior occasions. Be ready to make payment in full when you meet with your counsel. Some attorneys will take credit cards, but not all.
Often times people just cannot afford to hire counsel. When that happens, the public defender’s office is available for representation. When you can afford counsel, know that the cheapest attorney is not always the best for your case. You WILL get what you pay for. For example, if you’re a first-time criminal offender, expect that a District Court case will likely run you between $1500 and $5000 depending upon the charges. If you’re a first-time DUI offender, the fee might be a little less than $1500 depending on your circumstances, but again – you get what you pay for. If you’re facing serious felony charges in the circuit court, do not be surprised if your counsel quotes a fee of $15,000 to $25,000 (or more for crimes like murder).
You might need to get a loan to pay for your legal defense. Do not squander away your freedom by going cheap! There are many discount lawyers out there scraping by. If that’s who you want representing you, then by all means you should hire that discount lawyer.
Another factor to consider when hiring counsel is staying local. Sure, you can find an out of town attorney to take your case, but if his or her office is more than an hour away from the courthouse, think again about hiring that attorney. The attorney is likely unfamiliar with the local prosecutors and local judges. Those are important factors to consider and while an out of town attorney might be the right one for you, make sure that attorney is up to handling your out of town case.