How to Interview & Hire the Right Defense Attorney

Posted By Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners || 2-Nov-2015

If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime in Los Angeles, DON'T PLEAD GUILTY without considering all your options. The law provides that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. That’s what we believe, and that is why we fight for our clients. Pleading guilty results in a permanent criminal record. A guilty plea comes with risks of jail time, large fines, probation, and sometimes deportation. A criminal conviction can also affect your job, reputation and future . You may challenge the criminal charges against you. Before you make a decision you may regret, call and meet with us for an evaluation of your case. There are two things you should absolutely know when charged or arrested for a crime in Los Angeles:

DO NOT SAY ANYTHING TO THE POLICE! You can give them simple basic information such as your name, date of birth and your home address and that's it. Talking to the police and giving your side of the story will not benefit you.

TALK TO A CRIMINAL LAWYER IMMEDIATELY! Most jails and police stations allow you some privacy to make a phone call and criminal attorneys are available to meet with you in emergency situations. You can rely on a friend or family member to help you reach an attorney. The attorney can advise you on whether to post bail or wait for your first court date so that the attorney can get you released without posting bail - - commonly referred to as an “Own-Recognizance” release. The right attorney can give you a roadmap of your case, explain the court process, and your legal options.

We help people arrested and charged with crimes. We fight for our clients to protect them in a criminal justice system that wants a conviction. Regardless of your guilt or innocence, we fight to get you the best possible result.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Help You

Consult & Inform- A good attorney should meet with the client and meticulously review the police report and all the evidence related to the case. The prosecutor usually has access to a lot more evidence (such as forensic exams, expert opinions, additional witnesses) that is not turned over to the defense until much later - usually 30 days before trial. The attorney should know the client's side of the story. All witnesses favorable to the defense should be interviewed by the defense investigator. These witnesses should be contacted and prepared early in the case if there is a trial. The attorney should explain the crime and the law in plain English and discuss legal defenses and strategy with the client. The client and the lawyer can discuss early in the case whether to go to trial. The client should understand his/her consequences of a possible guilty verdict or plea deal.

Challenge – The attorney should challenge the prosecution's witnesses and evidence early in the case (usually in the pretrial stages). There may be motions that must be filed in court to prevent the government from using evidence seized illegally, challenge a search with or without a warrant, reduce the charges from felonies to misdemeanors, or to have the case dismissed. The criminal defense attorney should point out the weaknesses in the prosecution's case, while the prosecutor will downplay the case's weaknesses and concentrate on its strengths. The main goal of the defense attorney is to poke holes in the prosecution's case and create reasonable doubt regarding the charges and the evidence.

Negotiate – An experienced criminal attorney should be familiar with the client's side of the story and his/her personal background (job, professional licenses etc.,) and the specific facts before the attorney negotiates with the prosecutor. Skilled attorneys know the value of their case. A skilled defense attorney has a good idea what the prosecutor and judge will agree to in terms of prison, jail, probation, fines, etc., given the type of case it is and the unique facts and circumstances surrounding the case. The critical part of the negotiation for the defense attorney is knowing you played your cards right and convincing the prosecutor you will walk away from the negotiations if the prosecutor cannot meet your demands. It is like playing a game of chicken. Criminal defense attorneys in California usually negotiate with the judge if negotiations fail with the prosecutor. Sometimes judges will offer a better disposition than the prosecutors if the defendant “pleads to the sheet.” This means the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to the entire criminal complaint (all the charges). The judge then has the discretion to impose a different sentence than the prosecutor. In some cases it is a lesser sentence than the sentence offered by the prosecutor. Your attorney should be familiar with the judges inclined to more lenient sentences.

Plea or Trial - After several months of negotiations and court proceedings the moment of truth has arrived—whether to go to trial or settle . This is the time where the attorney provides the client with a reality check. There are risks in going to trial and those should be explained by the attorney. The attorney will review the entire case and discuss the defense(s) with the client and prepare the witnesses to testify. The client must raise these issues with the attorney:

  • Is the defendant able to testify and will he/she make a good witness?
  • What are the custody, immigration, and risks in going to trial?
  • What is at stake for the client? Is the plea deal a fair one?
  • Is it a plea deal one the defendant can live with and not lose everything?
  • Is it a plea deal that comes with no jail or state prison time?
  • What is the probability of a Guilty verdict, a Not Guilty verdict, a Hung-Jury?
  • What are the collateral consequences with a plea or a guilty verdict?

All these questions should be answered honestly by the attorneys. A skilled defense attorney who navigated the entire case with the client can assess the risks and offer honest advice that will help the defendant make the right decision.

Sentencing – Whether a plea deal or a guilty verdict, a skilled criminal defense attorney should assist the client by preparing a detailed sentencing memorandum for the prosecutor and judge's consideration. The memo will highlight reasons and justifications for avoiding jail or state prison and substituting alternatives such as house arrest, community labor or service, counseling, or treatment. In cases involving theft or fraud the attorney can help reduce the loss to the victim by challenging the estimated loss in a restitution hearing. The defendant should challenge the victim's loss especially when the victim exaggerates the loss to be in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is very important because if the claimed loss to the victim goes unchallenged, the loss amount is imposed on the defendant as “restitution” and the defendant will be ordered to pay that exorbitant amount as part of his/her probation. If the defendant cannot pay that amount, the court could impose a longer probationary period, or order a judgment entered against the defendant.

Hiring the Right Criminal Defense Lawyer

Hiring a criminal defense attorney can be a daunting experience. Interview and screen the lawyer in person (not by phone) with the goal of hiring the right one for your case. Interview several lawyers and consider the following:

  • Does the attorney practice criminal defense exclusively? Hiring a criminal lawyer who practices exclusively in criminal defense is always preferable. A criminal defense attorney who frequents the criminal courts regularly is more familiar with the judges and prosecutors in those courts. Being familiar with these courts makes it easier to settle cases, reduce charges or have cases dismissed.
  • Has the attorney handled similar cases to yours? An attorney who has handled similar cases previously will obtain better results usually because the attorney has fought that battle before and knows what to expect and how to prepare a stronger defense.
  • Does the attorney possess any expertise in a specific area? If you have a serious case involving DNA, computer / Internet fraud, capital murder, street gangs, bankruptcy or tax fraud, computer or cell phone forensics, it may your best interest to hire an attorney with this type of knowledge and expertise to more effectively defend your case.
  • Does the attorney have jury trial experience? Criminal defense attorneys with jury trial experience who are willing and prepared to go to trial obtain better results for their clients. Prosecutors who know the defense attorney has no trial experience or is not willing to go to trial, are less likely to drop or reduce charges or negotiate a plea bargain favorable to the client
  • How long has the attorney practiced criminal defense? Being a criminal defense lawyer is very challenging. It is difficult. Experience as a criminal lawyer defending people is important. Some attorneys brag about their previous experience as a prosecutor and will give you a high percentage rate of success. That is misleading. It is much easier in our criminal justice system to obtain a conviction as a prosecutor than it is to have a case dismissed or obtain a not guilty verdict as a criminal defense attorney. Good and successful criminal defense attorneys must be creative and know how to create and recognize holes in the prosecution's case to convince the judge or jury of reasonable doubt.
  • Meet the attorney. Personally meet and interview the attorney or attorneys that will be handling your criminal case. Do not hire an attorney over the phone. That is a huge mistake made by many people. When you meet the attorney, you decide if you feel comfortable having him/her represent you in court. Does the attorney understand your case? Find out how the attorney will approach your case. Ask yourself, after having these questions answered: do you believe the attorney has the confidence to effectively represent you on this case? Use your common sense and follow your gut feeling.
  • Check out the attorney's background. It is important to check with the California State Bar (calbar.org) to determine if the attorney is in good standing with the State Bar or has previously been disciplined or had problems while practicing law. A lawyer who has been disciplined or suspended for theft-related matters or drug problems could negatively affect your case.
  • Read the Fee Agreement. Read the fee agreement you sign with the attorney. Know what you are signing, what services you are receiving and what it will cost you. In Los Angeles, most criminal defense fee agreements are flat fees and not hourly fees. Usually the flat fee is payable upfront, but some attorneys will set up a payment plan. Some criminal attorneys will charge one flat fee that covers the entire case including trial. Your case may not require a trial and may settle before trial so you may overpay an attorney for services you don't need. For example, in some criminal cases there is so much evidence against a defendant that a trial is not a likely scenario. In these types of cases, a favorable settlement (without a trial) is a more likely outcome. Talk to your attorney and know exactly what you are getting for your money.

What should I pay for a criminal defense attorney? In Los Angeles, attorney rates are competitive and one would benefit from shopping around. The price you pay for an attorney should be based on the seriousness of your charges (misdemeanor or felony) and the attorney's knowledge, skill, and experience. There is an old saying: “You get what you pay for.” If you are facing serious felony criminal charges with lengthy jail or state prison time and the attorney is charging you $2000 for the entire case, then you should thank the attorney for his or her time and leave office immediately. Why? Any attorney charging that rate is likely to plead you out on the second or third court appearance rather than work on your case to prepare a good defense. The rate you pay the attorney should consider the amount of hours and work put into your case as well as the number of court appearances required for your case.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys

We are available to meet with you and confidentially evaluate and discuss your case. We will go over the facts and circumstances in your case and explain to you in plain English what you are facing, your legal options and how we can assist you with your goals. Call us for a free consultation at 213-223-2173.

Categories: Criminal Defense
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