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Common Questions For Criminal Defense


  • How can I get a court to appoint a lawyer for me?

  • Do I need a lawyer at my arraignment?

  • How can I find a Private Defense lawyer?

  • What is a private lawyer likely to cost?

  • Should I represent myself in a criminal case?

  • Can I change lawyers if I’m unhappy with the one representing me?

  • Are lawyers available for defendants who can’t afford to pay one?

How Can I Get a Court to Appoint a Lawyer for Me?

If you’re facing criminal charges and you can’t afford a private defense attorney, you could work with a court-appointed lawyer. Every criminal offender has a right to legal representation. You will get the opportunity to request a court-appointed lawyer when you appear before the judge for the first time during the arraignment. The first question after the judge calls your case is whether you have an attorney to represent you. If you don’t have one, the court will seek to know whether you would like a court-appointed lawyer for your case. If you answer yes:

  • The judge may ask you several questions to determine your financial status.

  • You may have to complete an income and asset questionnaire.

Before appointing an attorney for your behalf, the court has to verify that you indeed don’t have money to hire your lawyer. When you answer questions regarding your financial status or when filling the questionnaire, you should be honest. Providing false responses could lead to a prosecution for perjury.

Some courts may instantly appoint an attorney for you and complete your arraignment. However, other courts may suspend your case and only appoint an attorney after verifying your financial situation. Different states have different rules regarding the qualification criteria for a free attorney. You might still get the services of a lawyer appointed by the court even if you don’t meet the qualifications. However, after your case, the court will need you to repay the county or the state some legal representation costs. This arrangement is known as partial indigency.

Do I Need a Lawyer at my Arraignment?

The arraignment process is a court proceeding at which a defendant learns about the criminal charges against him or her. At this stage, the court will decide whether to release you pending trial. Arraignment occurs within a reasonable time after a criminal arrest. After the court advises you of the criminal charges against you, the judge will ask you to plead to the charges. Your plea could either be:

  • Not guilty

  • Guilty

  • No Contest, also known as nolo contendere

It’s not mandatory to have an attorney during the arraignment. However, the most crucial step that you can take to prepare for arraignment is to have a criminal defense attorney for your case. A criminal defense attorney will play three main roles:

  • Guide you through the intricate legal system

  • Help you to create a defense strategy.

  • Constantly fight for your legal rights.

Most people enter a plea of “not guilty” during the arraignment. This plea allows your attorney ample time to review your criminal case and determine whether to take your case to trial. Most experts advise against entering a guilty plea at the arraignment stage. Even individuals who consider themselves factually guilty are not likely to plead guilty at the arraignment. A “not guilty” plea helps defend your constitutional rights by opening the way to a fair trial. When your case proceeds to trial, you and your attorney will have enough time to explore your legal options.

If you choose to face court alone, you will not have someone to advise you on what to expect and the best plea to make. If you can’t afford to hire a private attorney, you should request for a court-appointed lawyer.

How can I Find a Private Defense Lawyer?

Finding the right criminal defense attorney to represent you may seem like a daunting task. However, it doesn’t have to be if you understand the tips to follow. Some of the tips for getting a competent attorney are:

  • Checking your network - You should ask around and seek referrals from your friends, family, acquaintances, and co-workers. If these people know some reputable private attorneys, they can recommend them to you. Personal references can guide you to the most reliable attorney.

  • Referrals from other lawyers. You could also rely on other lawyers’ referrals, even if the lawyers are not in the criminal law field. Most civil lawyers know reliable criminal defense counsels that they can recommend to you.

  • Conducting Research -You can get a reliable attorney by researching reliable online databases and directories. From online directories, you can get information such as an attorney’s practice area, disciplinary records, and location. When searching through online directories, ensure that you go through the online reviews for different attorneys. Online reviews will help you see what other customers think of the attorney and whether the attorney is reliable.

  • Local Courthouses. You can get excellent referrals for a reliable criminal defense attorney from the local courthouses.

If you have worked with a private attorney before and are happy with their services, you can consider working with the attorney again. You should not work with the first attorney you come across. Instead, you should talk to several attorneys and evaluate their services. Some of the information that you should seek is:

  • The attorney’s consultation and service fees

  • How long the attorney has been in practice

  • Whether the attorney has experience in handling cases similar to yours

What is a Private Lawyer Likely to Cost?

When you plan to hire an attorney, one of the factors you are likely to consider is the cost of the attorney’s services. The way a criminal defense attorney prices, his or her services will vary depending on several factors:

  • The difficulty of your criminal case- complex cases are likely to be more costly than straightforward cases.

  • The attorney’s expertise and experience – the more qualified and experienced an attorney, the higher the cost

  • Geographical location- attorney fees may differ in different locations

  • Type of billing, fixed or hourly billing- You are likely to pay less for hourly billing because you will only pay for the actual time spent with an attorney. Hourly billing is only advantageous if the case concludes fast. However, if the case extends over a long period, you’re likely to pay more.

The attorney for a misdemeanor criminal offense is not likely to exceed $5,000. For a felony criminal offense, the attorney fees may extend up to $25,000. Most attorneys will require you to pay a significant portion of attorney fees in advance. Contingency fees do not apply in criminal cases. Contingency fees refer to the fees an attorney gets only after he or she wins a lawsuit.

Should I Represent Myself in a Criminal Case?

Representing yourself in a criminal case might seem like a great idea. However, it’s essential to consider the outcome of your case before you make this decision. You might find it challenging to navigate the legal field without the necessary experience.

It may be sensible to represent yourself for a minor infraction. If you commit a minor offense that is not likely to have severe consequences, you may decide to represent yourself. However, if you’ve committed a severe crime, you should not consider representing yourself in court.

While considering whether to represent yourself or hire a criminal defense lawyer, you should consider your offense’s potential consequences upon conviction. If the offense is likely to lead to jail time, it would be wise to have an attorney represent you. It’s important to note that seemingly insignificant offenses could have severe consequences depending on your criminal record and other facts of your case.

A criminal offense accusation can be distressing. There’s vast paperwork to work, interrogations by the police, and evidence to gather. If you make the slightest mistake, you could compromise your case and lower your chances of winning. You should never take chances by trying to represent yourself. A criminal defense lawyer will take excess pressure from you. Some of the main reasons why you should hire a criminal defense lawyer are:

  • An attorney has a thorough understanding of the legal system.

  • It’s easy for an attorney to navigate the legal system and know how to handle the prosecutor and other players in the legal system.

  • You can evade jail time and hefty penalties by having an attorney represent you.

  • Access to ample resources allows an attorney to handle your case effectively.

  • An experienced attorney will save you time and money.

Can I Change Lawyers if I’m Unhappy with the One Representing Me?

You have a right to change your lawyer if you don’t like his or her services. You should hold every professional you hire accountable, including lawyers. However, if you are working with a court-appointed lawyer, the judge may not be willing to switch lawyers even if you are not comfortable with the current one. It’s common for defendants to have disagreements with court-appointed counsels. However, in most cases, disagreement is not a convincing reason for a replacement of public counsel. The court may be willing to change the attorney if you and the attorney can’t have a professional relationship due to the disagreements.

If you hire a private counsel, you don’t require court approval to fire the attorney. You can fire the attorney at any period. You may even choose to represent yourself in court after firing the attorney. However, it’s important to note that changing lawyers could be costly. You will have to pay the alternative lawyer and the outgoing lawyer depending on the extent of representation.

Even when you’re working with a private attorney, the prosecutor may limit your right to fire the attorney. The prosecutor could be determined to keep criminal cases flowing, especially if he or she is handling numerous cases. If you attempt to change your attorney close to the trial date, the prosecutor might oppose your move because this could lead to delays. Delays could make some witnesses unable to participate in the case. On the other hand, the new attorney may not be willing to take up your case if he or she will not have ample time to prepare for trial.

Most lawyers do not like to take clients from other attorneys and may have some reservations about taking your case. Some attorneys may recommend that you try to resolve your differences with your attorney. However, you can still change lawyers if you feel that it’s impossible to work with the current lawyer.

Are Lawyers Available for Defendants who can’t afford to Pay for One?

If you face criminal charges and don’t have resources to seek legal representation, the court may provide an attorney to you. According to the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. constitution, every defendant has the legal right to legal counsel. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, he or she has a right to free legal representation. After your arrest, you must be advised about your legal right to legal counsel alongside other rights.

For you to qualify for free legal representation, you have to meet a particular low-income criteria. The court may assign you a full-time public defender or a private lawyer. For the judge to determine whether you qualify for free legal representation, you have to prove your legal status by availing certain financial documents. However, some courts may take your word and grant you free legal representation immediately. You must ensure that you inform the judge that you require free legal representation.

In most cases, public defenders or court-appointed attorneys have large caseloads. Therefore, they may not have ample time to attend to your case the same way a private attorney would. However, public-defenders have an advantage because they know the prosecuting attorneys and judges all too well and could use this to your advantage.

The law requires court-appointed attorneys to defend their clients zealously. While working with a public attorney, you may have one attorney handle your case entirely. However, you could also have different public defenders handling your case at different stages. If you are in an area without public defenders, the government may contract a private law firm to handle your case.