When someone is being investigated or charged with a criminal offense, it is one of the most stressful and unnerving times of the person’s life. It is common to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about who to hire and what to ask in the initial consultation with a criminal defense attorney. Below are some tips on choosing the right attorney and the major questions a prospective client should ask the attorney.
Look for an attorney and firm that specializes in criminal defense. But don’t stop there, find ones that have vast experience in the type of matter you face. If it is a federal investigation or indictment, make sure that the attorney has significant federal experience because federal cases are much different than state, county or municipal prosecutions. Focus on the type of charge as well. If the investigation or charge involves healthcare fraud, ask the attorney about his or her experience in healthcare fraud cases. Experience with both the type of case, and the prosecuting agency, is often critical to success. The more experience the attorney has usually results in better insights into the case, its defense and the type of resolutions that are realistic with the particular prosecuting agency.
An experienced criminal defense attorney should be able to talk, at least generally, about the strengths and weaknesses of the case. He or she should be able to identify the relevant issues, strategies going forward, and potential defenses. If the case is new, then the attorney can only give general insights because the prosecution has not yet provided any discovery – law enforcement reports, statements by witnesses or the client, recordings, photographs, documents, emails, text messages, etc. – that more fully detail the government’s case. But, the attorney should be able to explain how these types of cases are investigated and prosecuted, and be able to offer insights as to the type and scope of work that lies ahead. Be aware, however, that the attorney has no credible way of predicting the outcome of your matter at this early stage.
How long will it take to resolve the case? Experienced criminal defense counsel can inform you generally how long a case like yours usually takes, and what you can expect along the way. While each investigation and case are different, the attorney can give you a good idea of how long and what to expect for cases in the federal system or in each state or county that they practice.
How much will it cost to defend your matter? Most criminal cases are handled on a flat fee basis for certain portions of the case. A client needs to know that she can afford the representation and the attorney needs to know that the client has the resources to properly defend the case. In certain instances, particularly when the matter is still in the investigative stage and charges have not yet been brought, the representation will start on an hourly fee basis until the attorney has a better understanding of the scope and complexity of the case.
Who else will be working on your case, and does the firm have the time to handle your matter? These are important issues that the potential client should inquire about. The experience of the other lawyers in the firm, as well as their caseload, is critical to the quality of representation. Firms that handle a large volume of cases, with minimal staff, may not have the time and attention to detail that the client’s matter requires.
A Word of Caution:
These questions provide a good framework for the client to make an educated and informed decision about counsel. There are also the intangible areas of comfort and trust in the person and firm. But do not be lulled by boastful promises or talk of the attorney’s confidence that the case will be dismissed, or that charges will never be brought. Experienced and ethical counsel will reserve their opinions about the outcome until they have the relevant facts and can fully examine the evidence and the case law. Good defense counsel will tell you what you need to know, rather than what you want to hear for comfort.
Contact Stahl Criminal Defense Lawyers
Stahl Criminal Defense Lawyers have extensive experience in serious federal and state criminal cases. The founder of the firm, Robert Stahl, is a Certified Criminal Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who tried some of the largest fraud and tax cases in the District of New Jersey. He has been aggressively defending serious cases in federal and state courts for more than 25 years.