• 703 2nd Street
  • Suite 407
  • Santa Rosa, CA 95404

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Should I Hire A Private Attorney for My Criminal Case?

Why Hire a Criminal Attorney?

People often are reluctant to contact and hire an attorney because they might feel intimidated or embarrassed. Most of my clients have never been in trouble before, so it’s their first time being arrested, their first time being cited, and their first time having to go to court.

There is definitely something intimidating and embarrassing about having to contact a lawyer regarding a situation where the person may have made an error in judgment. The person might also have issues in their life that they need to share with somebody, which can sometimes stop them from picking up the phone and seeking help.

Another issue many people have is the cost of hiring a private attorney. They worry about how many hours they may have to spend, what the bill might be and whether they can afford it.

It’s not cheap to hire a quality criminal defense attorney and people should not go around seeking the cheapest possible attorney out there, because they may not be the best fit or the best solution to their problem. Conversely, going out and spending the most money won’t necessarily make the case or the situation better.

I offer payment plans and I accept all major credit cards, which can usually make it easier for my clients to afford to come to me and have quality representation throughout their case.

Criminal Representation

Criminal defense attorneys are commonly asked these questions at parties or out in groups when people find out what they do. People ask how they can represent someone who they know is guilty, or how they could represent someone charged with certain serious or even heinous crimes.

The answer for most criminal defense attorneys is simple; everyone is presumed innocent, and everyone has a right to quality legal representation, so why shouldn’t every person have an attorney to do that?

If someone in an accident was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery and the doctors found out that the person had been accused of some crime or a heinous crime, would those doctors stop performing their life-saving measures just because they knew that? The answer is of course not.

It’s the same for a criminal defense lawyer. An attorney won’t stop helping people simply because of the accusations against them. I have represented people charged with everything from a first time DUI to first degree murder, rape and child molestation. Those cases do not bother me because those people deserve a full and fair defense; maybe even more so than anyone else.

What Makes A Good Criminal Defense Attorney?

There is a time for aggression and there is a time for precision. A good criminal defense attorney knows that being precise and intelligent will usually result in a much better outcome than going in with a junkyard dog mentality, like a bull in a china shop, annoying every DA and the judge in the name of being aggressive.

A good criminal defense attorney is tough and tenacious, but in a small county like Sonoma County, where the attorney has to appear in front of the same judges and DAs over and over, it will ultimately hurt the attorney and their clients if they always rubbed them the wrong way or developed a bad relationship with them. Aggressiveness can be good and times, and some attorneys market themselves that way, but I would describe myself as more tenacious and precise than aggressive.

An attorney with the respect of the judges and the DAs will usually get a better outcome.  If the DA knows the attorney has a lot of criminal trial experience and is not afraid to go to trial, they will be likely to make a better offer than otherwise. The attorney will always get a better offers from the DA if they are taken seriously and if they respect the attorney’s ability as a negotiator and trial attorney.

Similarly, judges will also give the attorney greater respect in the courtroom, which could subconsciously turn into better disposition or sentence for the client. Conversely, if an attorney antagonized or was disrespectful to the judge or was unprofessional in court, they will usually hurt themselves and their clients as well.

I pride myself on having a very good and very professional reputation with all the judges and the DAs in this county.

Public Defender vs. Private Attorney

There are some very good attorneys in the public defender’s office, but they are overworked.  They have a lot of cases and very little time. A private attorney can limit the number of cases he or she takes, and will therefore be able to spend a lot more time with you and preparing the case. Time is probably the biggest difference between hiring a private attorney and letting a public defender handle your case, but it can be a big one.

Quite often, a public defender is just trying to keep up with their clients and keep them informed. A private practice attorney should have plenty of time to make sure that the client and any interested family members are informed and up-to-date and can answer their questions more thoroughly. That can often make a huge difference in making sure the client is aware of everything that’s happening.

There is generally little difference between a public defender and a private attorney with regard to skill level, although there is a wide range of skill levels in both. There are very good private attorneys and there are private attorneys who have no business being in a courtroom. Likewise, there are attorneys in the public defender’s office who are equal to those at the top of their field in private practice, and there are some who are burnt out.

Who Qualifies For A Public Defender?

The public defender is only supposed to represent people who are indigent and unable to afford an attorney. The general maximum income for a person in Sonoma County to be assigned a public defender is about $2,000-$2,500 per month. If their income is above that level, they may still qualify for a public defender, but for a fee.

The fees would probably still be lower than the cost of a private attorney, but at some point, the court may review their circumstances and change their mind and force the defendant to either defend themselves or hire a private attorney anyway.

Since it’s not always easy to qualify for a public defender financially, a person accused of a crime may end up with a private attorney anyway. If a person waits too long to find an attorney, he or she could be at a disadvantage by not spending more time with that attorney.

Who will Represent Me?

A public defender will not represent anyone at a DMV hearing and they will likely never see or speak with the client about their case until the first court appearance, which is when they receive the police report.

Typically, there is a 3 to 4 week gap between the DUI arrest and the first court appearance, when the client first sees the public defender. In contrast, after an arrest, the client would be able to call a private attorney and start discussing the case immediately and receive answers to their questions. A private attorney will also happily schedule, prepare for and attend the DMV hearing for their client to try and save their license.

Having an Attorney is Almost Always Better

Having an attorney helps almost every time. While no attorney can get every case dismissed or dropped, a good one can greatly improve nearly every client’s situation through reduced charges, less jail time, alternatives to jail, informal probation rather than formal probation, shorter probation periods or guarantees to have charges reduced or dismissed after a certain period of time on probation. Those are all possible options and outcomes in a criminal case, and a good criminal attorney will aim for those, even if they can’t get the case dismissed outright.

Do Prosecutors Want Justice or Just Convictions?

In an ideal world, the district attorneys would only be able to charge and move forward on cases they believed could be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and they would uphold that standard. Unfortunately. We don’t live in an ideal world.

Sometimes, a prosecutor’s main goal is to get a conviction in order to get something on that person’s record and get them into the system. While they should always be interested in justice, sometimes their judgment becomes clouded and they work to get the biggest conviction or the longest sentence they can get.

Should I Speak to the Police?

People who are under investigation will sometimes be called by a police detective, who will want to talk about a certain situation. Too often, such people just speak to those detectives without an attorney present, even though it’s very important to consult with an attorney before speaking to anyone with law enforcement.

Anyone accused of a crime, even if they haven’t been officially charged, should always decline to speak with a detective, or make sure their attorney is present at the interview if they do. This is so that the attorney can protect their rights and give them on-the-spot advice.

The first lesson everyone needs to learn is that they will never be able to talk themselves out of the arrest, so they need to keep quiet. Far too many people say way too much to the police. Everyone has the right to remain silent, and more people should use that right.

Unfortunately, people tend to panic and think they can just explain it all away so the officer will let them go or the DA may decide to not file the case, which almost never happens. The best plan is always to remain silent or request an attorney. No one can hold the fact that a person chose to remain silent against them; it’s their right.

Will Remaining Silent Make People Look Guilty?

Absolutely not! In a courtroom in front of the judge or jury, the DA is specifically precluded from ever commenting on a person’s silence at any stage of the process, from not talking to the police to not testifying at the trial. Silence can never be used against anyone.

Accused Of A Crime

Sometimes, a person under investigation for a crime could receive a letter in the mail from the district attorney’s office, including a copy of the criminal complaint, stating that the person was being charged, along with a date for their first court date, which is usually a few weeks off. If the person does not appear in court on that date, an arrest warrant can be issued.

This is not as common as someone being arrested or cited, but it is certainly one way some people find out they have been charged with a crime.

What Can Police Search and When?

There are many exceptions to the requirement that the police have a warrant to search you or your property. Even if someone does not grant permission to search the car, police may still be able to search the car without a warrant if they feel they have probable cause to believe a crime has taken place and they need to investigate. In Sonoma County, people often get pulled over for a supposedly minor traffic violation such as speeding or following too closely, and the officer claims they smelled a strong odor of marijuana when they approached the car.

Once police smell marijuana, they can order the occupants out of the car and search the car to find whether or not there was marijuana and to investigate whether or not the person was carrying that marijuana legally. They can do this without the person’s consent and without a warrant.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Attorney

For more information on hiring a Private Attorney, please call (888) 570-3024 today to schedule a free initial consultation. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking.

Law Office of Amy Chapman

703 2nd Street

Suite 407

Santa Rosa, CA 95404

Phone: (707) 636-3207

Monday - Friday, 8am - 5pm