How To Hire A Criminal Defense Lawyer
Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
The decision to hire an criminal defense lawyer is a very important one and may well be the most important decision you make your entire life. The effect of hiring a bad attorney can last a lifetime. Not only can a bad attorney cause you to plead guilty to an offense you did not commit, a bad attorney can also cause you to plead guilty to an offense the State can NOT prove beyond a reasonable doubt. It is up to your attorney or lawyer to investigate your case, research the law, and force the State to meet this burden of proof.
A attorney you hire also has a duty and responsibility to educate you and inform you of your rights accurately. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve met with someone who had been misinformed about the law by their prior attorney. Here are some examples:
- In one instance, a client told me he pled guilty to theft because he was with a friend who stole something. However, “mere presence” is not enough to commit a crime. You have to do something to aid, solicit, encourage, direct or attempt to aid someone to committing the crime in order to be guilty. This misinformation caused them to plead guilty to an offense they didn’t commit.
- Another case, I had a client come in that had picked up another case after completing a deferred adjudication on a prior case. The attorney never told the client that they were eligible to seal their case after they completed the probation. They also didn’t know that if you pick up another case, your chances of sealing the first case are extremely unlikely. If they had known, they would have sealed it and possibly kept employers, credit companies, and others from seeing the prior case.
- A client met with me to seal his record after receiving a deferred adjudication 30 plus years before. When we pulled him up, his records showed he did a straight probation and not a deferred adjudication. This was a conviction on his record and had been keeping him from getting a good job for the past 30 years. He never knew why he couldn’t get any offers after doing so well in interviews. When we contacted his prior attorney about it, he had passed away.
- In another case, a client had completed a deferred adjudication for a family violence case and picked up a new unlawful carrying of a weapon case. He was never advised by his prior attorney, that by the Court making a finding of family violence, he would never be able to own a firearm again. Because he didn’t know that fact, he was unknowingly carrying a firearm illegally
- A client met with me and upon reviewing his past criminal history we saw a possession of marijuana case in which he pled guilty and received a time served conviction on. He basically paid a fine and the case was over. His attorney never told him that in pleading guilty on a drug charge, he would lose his financial aid for college. He was forced to drop out of college the following semester.
- A client met with our office in regards to a felony theft charge. It was a felony because she had two prior theft convictions. I asked her if she had a problem with stealing and uncontrollable urges to take things. She replied affirmatively and told me no one had ever asked her that. We got her some help to cope with her cleptomania and treat the impulsive behavior disorder and ended up resolving her case favorably.
There are so many things that an attorney is responsible for. It’s not just walking someone to Court and pleading them guilty. A criminal defense attorney is supposed to advocate or fight for their clients, advise their clients about their case and the repercussions of different results on their lives, and also to counsel clients and look out for their best interests. A criminal defense lawyer should genuinely care about each and every one of his clients.
What lawyers should I avoid?
First, I would absolutely avoid attorneys who charge you for each court appearance. This type of arrangement may seem to be a better bargain, but most cases get reset at least 4-6 times on average. That is without a trial.
What may end up happening is the lawyer will not do any work on your case during these resets. The lawyer will use this to pressure you into pleading your case out because you just cannot afford to keep paying him to come to court.
Resetting of a case is supposed to be used to gather evidence in defense of your case, but that usually doesn’t happen in these arrangements. Typically in these arrangements, the attorney will reset the case without doing any work on the case. They do that until you are tired of coming to Court or you get tired of paying. Then they give you an ultimatum and force you to plead guilty. Our office charges a flat fee and gathers evidence that will help on every case. Many times, the evidence we gather can get the case dismissed, helps tremendously in plea negotiations, or prepares your case to have a jury trial. There may be many pieces of evidence that could destroy the state’s case and thus cause your case to be dismissed. You should always be able to ask the attorney, “why your case is being reset”. If he cannot give you an answer, you have a problem.
Also, avoid attorneys that plea out cases early on without doing the necessary research. You can ask any attorney to pull up their current cases, by entering their bar number, on the Harris County District Clerk’s website. This will allow you to see the outcomes of each of the last 300-400 cases they have handled. The Harris County District Clerk is entity that handles all of the filings and court documents of the court system and they manage a database of all of the cases handled in Harris County. There should be a mixture of mostly dismissals, jury trials – not guilty verdicts, and deferred adjudications. If you see that the attorney has received convictions and pleaded to jail time on most of their cases, you can safely assume that they either do not really care about their clients or do not know how to effectively represent their clients and will likely get you the similar results.
I would also avoid attorneys that handle all types of cases and not just criminal defense. Just like a doctor, it takes a lot of time and continuing education to stay up to date in a given field of law. Doctors that handle cardiology typically do not handle dermatology and/or digestive health. Your criminal record and good name is very important to you. You want someone who understands the nature of the criminal court system, the people involved, and the current law in the field. Although not impossible, it is very tough to handle many different fields of law and know how to effectively handle the case. Ask the attorney, what other types of cases do you handle?
Another attorney you should avoid are attorneys that come to Court without a briefcase or file for you. I see attorneys come to Court with a list of names and Courts. Your attorney is responsible for defending you and keeping you from going to jail or having a permanent scar on your record. He should have something in a file including: resets, contact information, evidence, subpoenas, motions, notes, charging instruments, and offense reports with him. If he doesn’t have these things or written notes from the first time you told him your version of the facts, he is not defending you, just merely walking next to you as you get processed through the system.
Be cautious of an attorney without any experience or only a few years of experience. They may have good intentions, but without the knowledge of how to handle criminal cases, they typically fall flat with results.
Another tool to use is to look at reviews of the attorney online. Google their name and see what other past clients have written about them. Take these reviews with a grain of salt, because there are always the truth or justified, but you can learn a lot about a lawyer through his reviews. You can also look to review sites such as Avvo.com and see an attorney’s reviews, qualifications, and credentials. Also the Texas Bar has a way to search for attorneys and see if they have ever been disciplined. I would avoid any attorney who has been punished by the State Bar. The Better Business Bureau has reviews as well.
Why don’t I just hire the cheapest lawyer I can find?
We understand that money doesn’t grow on trees and many people just want to save as much money as possible. When you make a decision to hire an attorney, it is very important not to make that decision solely based on price.
It should definitely be a factor, but not the only factor. One problem I see often, is that when an attorney charges next to nothing, they take on more cases to make up for the low price. Typically, they will handle 10 or more cases in one day, which does a few things. It causes them to try to resolve your case as quickly as possible, which means they don’t fully investigate or try to fight your case.
It also causes the clients to sit all morning and wait for their attorney to arrive at court. One attorney can’t be at all 22 District Courts and 15 Count Courts in Houston at the same time. So they slowly make it through their docket causing you to sit there for hours each time you go to Court.
I often hear these stories whether its from a client who hires me after hiring a bad lawyer or being stopped by people in Court waiting for their attorneys. Oftentimes, I get calls from potential clients years after their cases are resolved and they call me to try and seal their records and I have to tell them that because of the disposition of the case, it will be on their record forever.
They explain that they were young and didn’t have any money or they hired an attorney and they forced them to plead guilty. What people don’t understand is that what happens after you are charged with a crime can and will affect you for the rest of your life.
Many offenses can keep you from ever being able to find a good job, sign a lease for an apartment, or get credit to purchase a house or car. Hiring an attorney to defend you against a crime is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your entire life.
The difference between hiring a bad and good attorney could possibly be only a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars right now. But one thing people typically do not account for is the difference between being stuck at a bad job because of your record versus a good job could easily be $20,000-50,000 a year. Which, over a lifetime, could be much much more. It is definitely not worth skipping out on a few dollars now. I once heard a very good piece of advice. There are three things you don’t want to go cheap on, an accountant, a doctor, and your lawyer. These people protect the most important things in life, your money, your health, and your freedom. Our office understands that not everyone has a lot of money saved up. In many circumstances we can typically work out a payment plan with you. Our fees are affordable and I will do everything I can to help you.
One thing to note is that a more expensive attorney doesn’t always mean they will be better either. Do your research. Meet with attorneys, ask them questions, and talk to them about how they are going to represent you. If you don’t feel comfortable or get a bad feeling, follow your gut. This is a big decision and you have to have someone in your corner that you feel will fight for you and cares about you.
Is there anyone who is good and affordable?
Not everyone charged with a crime can afford the criminal defense attorney they deserve. At the Law Office of Henry K. Nguyen, P.C., we know the economy is tough right now and people in Houston are suffering from it. Many people do not have a lot of money saved up or are hit with the exorbitant amount of fees and expenses related to being charged with a criminal case, such as posting bonds or getting devices installed like the SCRAM or Interlock devices. Everyone facing criminal charges wants a good attorney, the question is whether or not they can find an affordable criminal defense lawyer.
Our criminal defense firm offers affordable rates and we will try and do everything we can to work with you. Our fees are reasonable and we offer customizable payment plans to fit most budgets. Typically on payment plans, we require half down and payments every two weeks or every month. We can usually give you a couple of months to take care of the balance.
We can also accept collateral as a down payment on occasion. Our office is dedicated to providing affordable criminal defense for our clients. Not just an affordable criminal defense lawyer, but one that knows how to handle these cases. A criminal defense attorney that cares about you and one that will fight for you with the results to back it up. Get the criminal defense attorney you deserve, contact our office today for a FREE consultation.