If you’re one of the seventy million Americans with a criminal record (1), or if you’re running into problems with the law and keen to avoid becoming part of those statistics, then if you haven’t already done so, you should consider hiring a criminal defence lawyer.
A criminal defense lawyer (sometimes spelled criminal defence lawyer) – or criminal defense attorney as they are commonly referred to in the United States of America – is a lawyer who specializes in the defense of individuals and companies charged with criminal activity.
With marijuana (also referred to as cannabis or “weed”) classed as a Schedule 1 drug and illegal under federal law (2), the chances are that – if you are involved with the growing, sale, distribution or consumption of marijuana in any way, shape or form – you will likely need to call upon the services of a criminal defense lawyer sooner or later.
It’s also worth noting that, even in the ten states which have legalized cannabis recreational cannabis and in the thirty-three states which have legalized medical cannabis at state level (3), cannabis is still considered illegal under federal law! So even when you think you’re shielded from the long arm of the law when smoking pot in California for example, you’re actually not.
As the saying goes: “Hope for the best; plan for the worst”. Or as they like to say in financial circles: “Past performance is not an indicator of future results”. If you’ve managed to stay out of trouble up until now, this does not mean that you won’t get into legal difficulties down the road.
It pays to be prepared for that eventuality by pro-actively reaching out to a criminal defense lawyer in your local area, whilst things are cosy. The first few minutes of an arrest or of a search are often critical in terms of law enforcement gathering information, which can then be held against a suspect. Therefore, having your lawyer on the scene as soon as possible can help ensure you do and say all the right things. A good attorney will help you to avoid “shooting yourself in the foot” and getting yourself into undue difficulties. If you’re not prepared, prepare to fail. So, if you’re that Californian blissfully smoking pot without a worry in the world, consider getting in touch with Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers for example.
In order to help you decide which lawyer or law firm is best for you, we’ve put together a quick list of 5 things you should consider when choosing a criminal defense lawyer. This list is not exhaustive, and you may have other ideas as well, but it may help you in your decision making.
- Is the lawyer local to your area?
The United States of America have a complex legal system with four main sources of law:
- the United States constitution
- federal and state statutes
- administrative regulations
- case law
Whilst the constitution and federal laws are the same regardless of where you live in the USA, state laws vary from state to state. Certain rules and regulations are under the oversight of local counties. Therefore, it’s very important to chose a lawyer who practises within your state and preferably in your locality.
Moreover, choosing a lawyer in your local area provides the reassurance that the lawyer will know the ins-and-outs of the local legal and law enforcement systems. They will have the knowledge of how local judges generally interpret the law or how local law enforcement operate and what they will and will not be flexible on.
- What experience does the lawyer have?
There are few other areas of practise where experience is more important than the legal profession. That’s also why becoming a fully fledged criminal defense lawyer involves many years of intense study, accompanied by numerous work placements within reputable law firms. Becoming a lawyer is incredibly difficult and becoming a great lawyer is even harder!
Also, as highlighted above, with experience comes the knowledge of how the different legal systems interact with each other, of how different actors (judges, clerks, police officers) within the local legal and law enforcement systems can be expected to behave and also, very importantly, provides an understanding of how similar cases to your own were previously handled and what the outcomes were.
This experience can help a lawyer determine which personalised approach is best to your given circumstances, and increase your chances of a successful defense.
- What is the lawyer’s success rate?
Speaking of successful defense, it is worth enquiring about the lawyer’s success rate. In other words, out of all the cases which the lawyer was involved in, how many cases were dismissed or saw the defendant receive a lighter conviction that what the state attorney was requiring.
- What are the lawyer’s fees & payment options?
It’s a secret to nobody that hiring a lawyer can be expensive. As a matter of fact, a lawyer’s hourly fee can range from $50 to $1000 or more.
After many years of hard study and sacrifice, a lawyer is entitled to charge a fee which is representative of this investment in time and effort.
Also, good lawyers (i.e. lawyers which will get you off the hook), tend to charge more than lawyers with low success rates. You get what you pay for when it comes to legal advice. Which is more important to you? Your money or your freedom?
However, we also understand that there are situations when you simply don’t have the money upfront, or can’t afford to pay your lawyer’s fees in a single lump sum. This is why it’s important to check that your lawyer offers flexible payment options, such as the possibility to pay in several instalments.
- Does the lawyer off a free initial consultation?
Beyond the importance of experience or the question of affordability, there’s also a strong human element to choosing a lawyer. Before committing to a lawyer for the long haul, it’s vital to get a personal feel for whoever is going to represent you.
You might want to meet or at the very least organise a Skype call or a Facetime chat with several different lawyers before you choose the one who’s right for you. However, lawyer’s often bill these initial meetings at an hourly rate. Meeting several lawyers can all add up, and this even before you discuss the details or your case for example.
Therefore, be on the look out for a lawyer that offers a free initial consultation. This will enable you to go beyond the statistics (which you can generally get off a lawyer’s website), judge the attorney on his personality and determine whether or not the chemistry is good between both of you!
So, there you have it in a nutshell. We hope that this short guide will have given you a few good tips to chose the right criminal defense attorney – but beyond all else we hope that you will never run into trouble!