The Criminal Lawyer Group is here to answer all of your questions about criminal lawyers and help you find the best criminal defense attorney for your specific case.
We represent defendants across the country in both state and federal criminal matters and government investigations. Many defendants facing criminal charges are going through the criminal litigation or investigatory process for the first time in their lives. Even if you have faced criminal charges or a government investigation in the past, you may still have questions regarding the charges you are facing today.
Defendants often ask us questions regarding:
- how to find and hire the best criminal defense attorney;
- what type of criminal defense attorney to hire;
- the cost of representation for the specific charge;
- whether a criminal defense attorney can defend someone they know is guilty;
- what ethical duties an attorney has related to attorney-client privilege and confidentiality; and
- what type of federal investigations and charges have we defended clients against?
Below, we will discuss all of these issues and more in an attempt to paint a full picture of what types of criminal defense attorneys are out there and which type of criminal defense attorney would be best suited to represent you in your specific criminal matter.
DEFINITION: “CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER”
A criminal defense lawyer is someone who has been admitted to practice law by the bar of a particular jurisdiction. The “bar” of a particular jurisdiction is essentially an association that grants licenses to attorneys. This license, like other professional licenses, gives an attorney the ability to practice their profession.
Specifically, criminal defense lawyers act as the legal representatives of a defendant in a court of criminal law.
Most importantly, criminal defense lawyers work on behalf of criminal defendants to achieve the best possible outcome for a defendant’s case.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Defend Someone That They Know is Guilty?
Yes, a criminal defense attorney can still defend someone that they know is guilty. That doesn’t mean they MUST defend someone that they know is guilty; private attorneys can refuse any case or client so long as they aren’t discriminatory.
There are several reasons why a criminal defense attorney might choose to defend someone that they know is guilty. For starters, attorneys are less concerned with what their clients did, and more concerned with what the government can prove they did. Their job isn’t to pass moral judgment, but to defend their clients to the best of their ability.
Knowledge of guilt (or innocence) does not charge an attorney’s duty to work diligently in their client’s favor. Even in situations where the prosecution has an ironclad case against a defendant, good criminal defense attorneys still have a role to play. They can try to strike an agreeable plea deal, or fight to have felony charges reduced to misdemeanor charges.
What is Considered “Confidential Information” Between You and Your Attorney?
Just about anything you say to your attorney can be considered “confidential information.” That’s right: if you and your attorney discuss a legal matter, or anything relating to their representation of you as a client, he or she is almost definitely bound to keep that information private.
Attorney-client privilege and the confidentiality that comes with it is one of the most fundamental and important privileges provided to defendants in the United States legal system. It allows defendants to be as honest as possible with their attorneys, who in return can offer the best advice and legal counsel they are capable of providing.
There are only a few situations in which an attorney may use or share your confidential information, including:
- to prevent someone else’s death;
- to prevent you from committing a crime;
- to secure legal advice from another lawyer, or to defend themselves and their colleagues against accusations of wrongful conduct.
Rest assured that these extenuating circumstances are uncommon. Attorneys are sworn to protect your confidential information, and they will do so in all but the rarest of cases.
Are Criminal Defense Attorneys Licensed For Their Specialty?
They can be, but they don’t need to be. Anyone who has been admitted to the bar in a certain jurisdiction can practice as a criminal defense attorney in that jurisdiction. If a Bar-admitted labor lawyer or immigration lawyer wants to switch paths and practice as a criminal defense lawyer, they can do so without receiving any further training or licensing. All attorneys can practice in all fields of law.
It is possible for criminal defense attorneys to receive certification in some specialties such as “criminal trial advocacy.” They might seek such licensing to show their dedication to criminal defense law and to ensure potential clients that they are experts.
That being said, there are plenty of great criminal defense attorneys who lack official specialty certification. Almost all attorneys have a “specialty” of some sort, whether they receive certification or not. Just because an attorney lacks official certification as a white-collar crime specialist doesn’t mean they aren’t the best around.
What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?
That depends on the circumstances of each unique case they choose to take, but generally speaking, a criminal defense attorney will do a lot of work for every client. Even in the simplest of cases, they do much more than just show up to the court to argue with the prosecution and make a case to the judge or jury.
For starters, a criminal defense attorney will consult with you and discuss the specifics of your case. They’ll give you an idea of the consequences you’re facing, and suggest how they might be able to help. From there, if you choose to hire them, they’ll start working on your case. This can involve, but is not limited to:
- interviewing eyewitnesses
- selecting witnesses to bring to trial
- meeting with the judge or prosecution to discuss the case
- compiling evidence in your favor, doing legal research into similar cases, and;
- motioning to have the entire case dismissed entirely. Before your case has even gone to trial, your attorney has done a lot of work on your behalf.
If the prosecution’s evidence against you seems unbeatable and you are willing to plead guilty, your attorney will fight to get you the most favorable plea deal possible. If your case goes to trial, your attorney will play a role in selecting the jury and then defend you to the best of their ability for as long as your trial lasts. Criminal defense attorneys do everything they can to achieve the best possible outcome for their clients.
How Much Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Make?
The most honest answer to this question is a rather unsatisfying one: it depends. The median pay for all US lawyers in 2018 was $120,910, but plenty of criminal defense attorneys make considerably more or considerably less than that amount.
Attorneys are often thought of as very comfortably wealthy folks, with expensive homes and luxury sports cars. Those attorneys do indeed exist, but so do the lower-middle-class ones who rent a sensible apartment and drive a used sedan. The reality is that there is no set amount of money that criminal defense attorneys make. Their pay depends on a number of factors, including:
- size of firm
- seniority within firm
- private or public
- pay structure (salary, bonuses, commission, etc…)
A first-year, solo-practitioner criminal defense attorney in rural Alabama might make $50,000 per year. Public defenders may make $70,000 per year but also receive a strong benefits package as government employees. A partner in a big law firm in New York City, who has been practicing for over 30 years and specializes in financial crimes, might make $5,000,000 per year.
How Much Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Cost?
Yet again, it depends. There is no set amount of money that a private criminal defense attorney might cost you. Some attorneys may cost $1,000, while others may charge you $20,000 (or more) for their services. There are two main reasons for the inconsistencies in cost: every attorney is different, and every case is unique.
An experienced, highly-skilled attorney will cost you considerably more than a brand new attorney with little or no experience under their belt. That isn’t to say that the most expensive option is always the best one, or that there are no great attorneys with reasonable rates. Just understand that an attorney’s experience, seniority, reputation, and skill level will affect the rates they charge. The specifics of your case will also have a major effect on the cost of your defense. For example:
- If you are charged with a simple misdemeanor that your attorney can handle in a day or two, they might charge you a flat fee of $1,000.
- If you are charged with several serious felonies that will require months of work, you might be charged an hourly rate that climbs into the $200,000 range when all is said and done. The best way to get an idea of how much your unique case might cost is to consult with a criminal defense attorney.
Does it Matter Which Criminal Defense Attorney I Hire?
If you find yourself asking this question, you should first ask yourself a few others:
- Does it matter if you go to prison?
- Does it make a difference if you spend seven years behind bars or just one?
- Does it matter if you struggle to find gainful employment for the rest of your life?
- Does it matter if you miss birthdays, graduations, and other important milestones in your family’s lives? Those questions may sound dramatic, but it’s important to understand that criminal charges are no laughing matter.
If you choose the wrong mechanic, you’ll be out a few hundred dollars and need to go to another repair shop. If you choose the wrong personal trainer, you’ll be out a few hundred dollars and need to find someone who can get you the results you want. If you choose the wrong attorney, the lost money will be the least of your concerns.
Felony and misdemeanor convictions can ruin your life. Picking a criminal defense attorney is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make, so don’t make the mistake of thinking it doesn’t matter.
What is a Typical Day For a Criminal Defense Attorney?
There is no “typical day” for a criminal defense attorney. Their daily schedule will vary heavily depending on factors such as their current caseload and the specifics of the case(s) they are working on.
- On a given day, a criminal defense attorney might go into the office early to check emails, make some phone calls, and catch up on some legal research. Then they might head over to the courthouse for a bench trial regarding a simple misdemeanor, which they win for their client in quick fashion.
Without any other court cases that day, they might head back to the office for a consultation, a meeting with a current client, or to continue working on a case that’s going to trial the next week.
- On another day, a criminal defense attorney might be in the courthouse from 9am to 5pm. On yet another day, they might not step foot in a courtroom and instead spend the whole day traveling around and meeting with potential witnesses for a big case. A criminal defense attorney’s typical day varies as much as the cases they work on.
How Many Hours Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Spend on a Case?
Every case is different, and they all require different amounts of time to resolve. Some simple cases, such as common and clear-cut misdemeanors, might never go to trial and only require a few hours of an attorney’s time.
More complex cases, such as serious financial crimes or violent felonies, might require dozens or even hundreds of hours to resolve completely. Some cases go from investigation to resolution within a few weeks, while others may last years and involve periods of heavy activity and none whatsoever. An attorney might handle several cases in a single day or just one case for months on end.
If you want an idea of how many hours a criminal defense attorney might spend on your case, the best course of action is to consult with one.
How Do You Become a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Becoming a criminal defense attorney takes a considerable amount of time and effort.
- First, you need to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. You don’t need to study pre-law or political science – you can major in any subject or field you desire.
- Next comes the law school admissions process, which will involve taking the LSAT or GRE, writing some personal essays, and submitting your undergrad transcripts. You’ll need to get into, attend, and graduate from an ABA-accredited law school.
You don’t need to take classes related to criminal law unless your school requires them for all students, but doing so would certainly help you in your future career. Once you graduate from law school, you’ll have a Juris Doctor degree under your belt. Congratulations on the achievement, but you’re not done yet!
- The final step is to be admitted to the bar in the jurisdiction where you want to practice law. This will involve passing the Bar Exam and being deemed morally fit to act as an attorney. Then, and only then, are you finally able to act as a criminal defense attorney.
There are no further steps needed once you pass the bar. You don’t need specific certification as a criminal defense attorney, or licensed to practice criminal law. All attorneys can practice all fields of law.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A:
“Criminal Defense Attorney” v. “Criminal Defense Lawyer?”
Criminal defense attorneys have been admitted to the bar and can act as defendants’ representatives in court. These are the people who will stand by your side and defend you in a court of criminal law.
Criminal defense lawyers are formally educated in the law but are not necessarily admitted to the bar. They can give legal advice or do technical legal work, but they cannot act as representatives in court.
Note that, despite the distinction, these terms are mostly used interchangeably. If someone says they know a really good criminal defense lawyer, they are probably referring to someone who is actually an attorney.
“Criminal Defense Attorney” v. “Criminal Attorney?”
There is no difference between a criminal defense attorney and a criminal attorney. The two terms are interchangeable. Regardless of which term they prefer, people who carry either of these titles are bar-admitted attorneys who choose to practice criminal law.
“Private Criminal Defense Attorney” v. “Public Criminal Defense Attorney?”
A private criminal defense attorney is a privately-employed, bar-admitted attorney that defends and represents criminal defendants. They usually charge a fee for their services, but sometimes work free of charge as part of pro bono work.
A public criminal defense attorney is a government-employed, bar-admitted attorney that defends and represents criminal defendants. They are paid by the government of the relevant jurisdiction – usually the state – and therefore charge no fee to their clients. They are more commonly known as “public defenders.”
When considering whether to choose a private or public criminal defense attorney, keep in mind that public defenders are often overworked and underfunded.They may be highly-skilled attorneys with good hearts, but the reality of their job is that they probably can’t devote as much time to your case as a private attorney.
“State Criminal Defense Attorney” v. “Federal Criminal Defense Attorney?”
State criminal defense attorneys represent defendants of state crimes. They are admitted to the bar of the state where they practice and specialize in the state laws of their jurisdiction.
Federal criminal defense attorneys represent defendants of federal crimes. They must be admitted to the bar of a specific federal court before practicing in it. Generally speaking, these attorneys also have substantial experience as state criminal defense attorneys. They might seek admission to a federal bar for a single case, or they might specialize in federal cases.
“White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney” v. “Street Crime Criminal Defense Attorney?”
White-collar criminal defense attorneys deal with financially motivated, non-violent crimes generally committed by business or government professionals. Typical charges they might defend against include fraud, forgery, wage theft, money laundering, and embezzlement.
Street crime criminal defense attorneys deal with violent crimes generally committed by civilians in public places. Typical charges they might defend against include robbery, pickpocketing, vandalism, assault, and drug dealing.
Technically speaking, there is no formal difference between these two types of criminal defense attorneys. White-collar specialists can take on street crime cases, and street crime specialists can take on white-collar cases. The distinction lies only in the types of cases they tend to work on.
RESOURCES FOR THOSE CHARGED WITH A CRIME:
How Do I Find the Best Criminal Defense Attorney?
There are several ways to find good attorneys, but the key is to diligently look for an attorney who specializes in the crime or type of crime that you are accused of committing.
- Family, friends, or colleagues may be able to recommend someone they’ve been defended by in the past, or someone they know personally. Their advice won’t be of much help, however, if they recommend a traffic lawyer or divorce lawyer when you need a bonafide criminal defense attorney.
Even if they recommend a good criminal defense attorney, make sure that the attorney specializes in cases such as your own. Your cousin might recommend you to the world’s best street crime attorney, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re being charged with a white collar crime.
- Google can be a helpful resource for finding a local criminal defense attorney, especially if you include your specific charge as one of your search keywords. Keep in mind, however, that just because a certain attorney or law firm shows up first in search results doesn’t mean that they are the best around. A strong online presence does not necessarily equate to a strong courtroom presence.
- State bar association websites usually provide help finding attorneys, but keep the same advice in mind. Just because an attorney is the first one recommended by a bar association website doesn’t mean they are the right fit for you and your case.
Your best bet is to search around as if you’re looking to buy a new car. Call a few different attorneys, meet for a few consultations, and do as much research as you can into them. You don’t need to settle on the first attorney you talk to unless you are absolutely blown away by them.
You’re looking for someone who specializes in the type of crime you are being charged with, who has a flat fee or hourly rate you can afford, and who can explain their plan of action in a way that you understand. This is a big decision, so take it seriously.
How Do I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Once you’ve found a criminal defense attorney you want to represent you, you’ve gotten the hard part out of the way. Your next step is to ask them if they would like to represent you and what the associated costs would be. It’s not a guarantee that your first choice of attorney will accept your case.
Attorneys can turn down any case, for any reason, so long as their refusal isn’t discriminatory in nature. Don’t take it personally if you get refused; it’s likely that your case just wouldn’t fit into their already busy caseload, or that they prefer working on different charges than those you have received. If your desired attorney would like to take on your case, you will need to come to an agreement on how to pay for their counsel.
Some attorneys will bill hourly, while others will charge one flat fee. They might let you set up a scheduled payment plan, so the upfront cost isn’t insurmountable, or they might require an upfront retainer fee before they even begin working on the case. A good attorney will be transparent and helpful when it comes to paying and hiring them.
How Many Criminal Defense Attorneys Are There In The United States?
It is hard to say exactly how many criminal defense attorneys there are in the United States.
There are approximately 1.34 million attorneys as of 2018, and all of them are capable of practicing in any field of law they so choose. Since attorneys don’t need to obtain official certification for their chosen specialties, there are no reliable statistics on exactly how many attorneys primarily practice criminal defense law.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in conjunction with its affiliates, has roughly 50,000 members. This gives us a rough idea that there are at least 50,000 criminal defense attorneys, but there is no way of telling where the upper bound might be.
Rest assured, there are probably enough criminal defense attorneys in your area for you to find the perfect fit for your case. Whether there are 50,000 criminal defense attorneys in the US or over 500,000, all you need is 1 to act as your counsel and representative.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS WITH OUR LAW PARTNERS:
What Happens If You Can’t Afford A Lawyer?
You should know that if you cannot afford a criminal lawyer, just like they say on TV, one will be appointed for you. In the criminal justice system, unlike in other areas of the law, you have a fundamental constitutional right to an attorney.
No one is ever going to be on their own without a lawyer if they are facing criminal charges. This is important to know because sometimes people think that they must hire a private criminal defense attorney.
They also tend to believe that all private criminal defense attorneys are necessarily better than the free lawyer that might be appointed for them. This is sometimes the case but not always the case. It is true that court-appointed attorneys because they have such a high volume of cases to deal with, can be overwhelmed– and oftentimes that leaves the underfunded underrepresented as well.
If you can afford a good criminal defense attorney privately then you should hire one period— but just because you have enough money to scrape together to hire a private criminal defense attorney it does not mean that you should.
If you are hiring the cheapest lawyer that you can find, you might want to reconsider that decision and try applying to the court for either a legal aid attorney, also known as a public defender or in many states they have court-appointed attorneys.
Court-appointed attorneys are slightly different from public defenders and legal aid attorneys because many of them also maintain private practices but they’re also authorized by the court to represent clients for a much lower hourly rate than they would normally charge privately and those fees are paid by the court, and through, the court system.
So, if you cannot afford a criminal lawyer, it is not, or should not be, considered a serious option to represent yourself anytime that you are being questioned by police or under arrest or facing criminal charges or under criminal investigation.
It can be more difficult to try to get a court-appointed or public defense attorney prior to formal criminal charges being levied against you. And that is because typically those free lawyers are only appointed at arraignment meaning after you have been arrested and processed and formal charges have been levied.
If you are merely being questioned by police or under investigation you might want to consider hiring a private defense attorney because it should never be an option for you to speak directly to the government without some form of representation.
So to answer the question, of ‘what happens if you cannot afford a lawyer in the criminal justice system’ the answer is, you will always have a lawyer in the criminal justice system and be careful with anyone in government or otherwise who tries to suggest that you should speak to them directly when under investigation unless you can afford a private criminal defense attorney.
Call your local Bar Association or legal aid society or public defender’s office and let them know that you do not yet have any formal criminal charges pressed against you and have not yet been arrested but that you need representation and if they can’t represent you for free they can most likely refer you to an attorney who can represent you in a cost-effective manner up until such time as formal criminal charges are filed if that cannot be avoided.
Once those formal criminal charges are filed you can then apply for a free court-appointed or legal aid society attorney.
What type of federal investigations have you defended clients against and what federal agencies were involved?
We’ve defended clients against investigations carried out by the:
- Local District Attorneys’ Offices (“DA”): We regularly handle cases with the district attorney’s offices of all five (5) boroughs in New York including the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, and the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office in Staten Island.
- New York State Office of Attorney General (“AG”): We have represented client’s on various charges and investigations carried out by the New York State Office of Attorney General.
- U.S. Attorney’s Office (“AUSA”): We have represented client’s on various charges and investigations carried out by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
- Securities and Exchange Commision (“SEC”): We have represented clients on investigations for insider trading as well as market manipulation that were headed out by the SEC in conjunction with a local U.S. Attorney’s Office.
- Office of Veterans Affairs (“VA”): We have represented clients during investigations headed up by the Office of Veterans Affairs for violations of federal laws relating to veterans or taking place on VA property.
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”): We have represented clients for gun and drug possession charges and investigations headed up by ATF which is alcohol tobacco and firearms and the DEA which is the drag enforcement administration
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”): We’ve dealt with the FBI on a number of cases. They do have a rather wide jurisdiction, so we’ve done cases with the FBI or against FBI on cases involving child pornography, bank fraud, wire fraud and securities fraud.
- U.S. Post Office Inspector General (“OIG”): We have handled cases with the Office of the U.S. Postal Inspectors and while you may not think they do much, they actually do quite a lot. They handle all cases involving interstate mail and pretty much all sorts of cases like drug sales or drug transportation, check fraud or bank fraud – yeah, all those cases are done through the Postal Service.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: We have represented clients on cases relating to wildlife animal exploitation like Joe Exotic headed up by Fish and Wildlife of course.
Can you describe a Supreme Court Case that impacts your practice of law?
So, this is an excellent question and I actually thought a lot about which case is the most seminal in how the federal practice is now shaped and the case that comes to mind is:
United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005).
The Booker case is a Supreme court decision on criminal sentencing that was decided in 2005. This case made sentencing guidelines discretionary rather than binding.
This gives federal judges a lot of latitude when taking into account the personal characteristics of an individual, the conduct in question, and what the individual’s role was in the conduct, in order to devise the appropriate sentence.
Before this case, if your guidelines were let say around 30 years, the judge had to give you 30 years. The judge had no leniency to go below the guidelines.
The same is also applicable for cases where the guidelines don’t accurately reflect the seriousness of an individual’s conduct. Although this is very rare, a judge is able to go above guidelines by explaining why the judge believes that the guidelines don’t accurately reflect the seriousness of the conduct that took place.
I think, generally, the judges do stay within guidelines or go below guidelines. Increased sentences above guidelines are exceedingly rare now because defense attorneys are able to explain to the judge who a client is as an individual with the hope that, in light of these 3553A factors, a judge gives a sentence that accurately reflects the seriousness of the offense as well as the nature and characteristics of the offender.
If a judge is able to take these factors into consideration, he may be likely to hand down a sentence that is below the guidelines. This is something that has helped make our practice a lot more flexible. It’s a very good thing when the judge is able to look at individuals as who they are as people and not just hand sentences down based on what the guidelines required the judge to do.