If you’ve been charged with a crime, you may be feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do. The best thing you can do is to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible - time is not on your side, and the sooner you to talk to a lawyer, the better chance you have for a positive outcome.
Most people don’t know a criminal defense attorney personally, and so they have to rely upon word of mouth or what they find on the internet. You may want to meet with a few lawyers before settling on the one that you feel most comfortable with, but when you meet with an attorney, it's critical to ask the right questions. Choosing an attorney is a very personal matter, much like choosing a doctor, and you want to make sure the attorney will be a good fit for you. Asking the right questions will ensure that you make the most out of your first meeting.
Unless your case is truly unusual, the attorney should be able to provide you with an estimate of what it will cost to handle your case. They may provide more than one estimate reflecting different scenarios - what it will cost if you have to go to trial, what it will cost if you accept a plea agreement early on, or what it will cost if you have to go through the discovery process. Just remember that it is an estimate, not a guarantee that your case will cost no more than that.
Experience is one of your attorney’s best assets. You want to know how long they have been practicing as an attorney in order to get a sense of how much experience they have and their familiarity with Pennsylvania law and procedure. As a follow-up question, ask them how long they have practiced as a criminal defense attorney.
There are attorneys out there who do criminal defense alongside other matters such as personal injury, consumer bankruptcy, or civil litigation. In our opinion, lawyers who are one hundred percent dedicated to criminal defense have the most experience and offer the best possible representation.
General criminal defense experience is great, but experience handling cases involving the same charges as yours is even better. In addition, it’s a good idea to ask whether they’ve practiced in the court in which your case will take place or if they are familiar with the judge hearing your case.
You want your attorney to be candid and realistic so that you have reasonable expectations from the very outset. You want to know upfront whether there will be issues with your case, whether it’s evidence against you or your criminal history.
Again, you want to have reasonable expectations, and you don't want an attorney who is willing to discuss only the best-case scenario. Knowing the potential outcome up-front will help you make decisions as your case progresses.
The prosecution may have already told you about the punishment you'll receive if convicted, but understand that they are probably giving you the worst-case scenario to encourage you to accept a plea agreement. An experienced criminal defense attorney can give you a realistic sense of what penalties would be imposed in your case - probation, jail or prison time, fines, or other punishments. Again, knowing the potential penalties you are facing can shape how you decide to proceed through the process.
Communication with your attorney is vital, so you need to understand how it will work. Will you have their cell phone number? Do they have a staff person that can answer simple questions? Can you email them after hours? You want to get a sense of how the attorney values communication, how responsive they are, and who will be your primary point of contact (which is hopefully the attorney themselves).
Hiring an attorney can be expensive. You want to make sure you fully understand how the attorney will charge you for the representation. They will likely bill on an hourly basis, and so you want to know what their hourly rate is. They may also use paralegals or other assistants to help with your case who also bill by the hour, likely at a lower rate.
Many criminal defense attorneys may require that you pay a “retainer” fee up front. You want to understand how much the retainer fee is and how it will be applied to your case. They will typically bill against the retainer until it is exhausted, at which point they may bill you on an hourly basis. If they don’t use the entire retainer, they will refund you the remaining balance.
Other attorneys may charge a flat fee for certain services, or use a combination of hourly rates and flat fee services. Whichever method a lawyer employs, you should ask if he or she can provide you with a written explanation of how you will be billed for their services.
Lastly, be aware that you may have to pay certain costs in addition to your legal fees. Some of these costs can include copies or other expenses, but can also include third-party costs: court costs, court reporter fees, private investigator fees, or any other professional assistance that is required in your case.
Hiring a criminal defense attorney is a critical step in your case. At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, we know that it’s your future at stake. Whether charged with a serious felony or a misdemeanor, we work with you every step of the way to make sure you get the best possible outcome in your case. We help our clients face their charges with an aggressive defense focused on fair results. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation, call us today at 215-712-1212 or visit us online.