Skip to main content

Criminal Law

Search for an Attorney  

Initial Consultation With a Criminal Defense Attorney or a Public Defender

It should come as no surprise that working with a quality attorney can often influence the outcome of a legal dispute. However, most people do not need the services of an attorney on an everyday basis, so they probably would not have an attorney on standby. The need to retain a lawyer usually arises only under dire circumstances, like a divorce, a lawsuit, or perhaps worst of all – a criminal prosecution.

If you or someone you love is suddenly facing criminal charges, the skills and expertise of your defense attorney will be essential to achieving a favorable outcome in the case. It can be frightening and overwhelming to be arrested for a crime, and, like most people, you probably will not already have a criminal defense attorney under contract.

You will need legal representation as soon as possible to protect you and your family from the consequences of prosecution, including a criminal conviction, hefty fines, or even prison time. It will be critical to find the right lawyer for your defense.

One of the first decisions to make when suddenly facing criminal charges is hiring your own criminal lawyer or using a public defender. Despite popular misconceptions, not everyone can qualify for a public defender, so that option might not be available in your situation. Defendants who face only minor charges, like Class C misdemeanors in Texas, are not entitled to legal counsel at public expense. Even those who find themselves potentially facing serious jail time for felony offenses might not be able to receive the services of a public defender if their income is too high. If your situation matches that last category, you will have no choice but to retain counsel.

Criminal law is different in each state. Practices and procedures can vary greatly from one jurisdiction to the next, so a local attorney will best understand the criminal court process in your case. We suggest consulting a criminal defense lawyer in a city near you to give you the best advice about your individual situation and help you achieve a positive outcome.

Private Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are in the market to hire a private criminal defense attorney, you will likely want to interview a few attorneys before hiring one. Most criminal defense attorneys offer a free initial consultation to discuss the details of your case, the attorney’s fees, and other aspects of the attorney-client relationship. The initial consultation is often free because the attorney uses it to attract clients, assess the potential client’s ability to pay, and even screen out undesirable cases.

Make the most of your consultation by sharing all the essential information about your criminal case so the attorney has a realistic picture of your situation. It is vital to be completely honest, sharing details that might be unflattering to you and including information about any previous criminal charges. If you have any relevant documents, such as a police report or criminal complaint, you should bring those documents with you to the consultation. There is never a reason to lie or withhold information from your lawyer – even at the initial consultation. You are protected by the attorney-client privilege and the ethical rules governing law practice.

The consultation is also a time for you to ask questions, learn more about the criminal justice process in your state, and consider whether you are comfortable enough with the attorney to trust them to represent you in a criminal matter. By the end of the consultation, you should have a good idea of how long your case will be in court, what some likely plea bargain options might be, and how much the attorney will charge for pre-trial and trial services. Most attorneys will offer one price for cases that resolve without trial and another one for cases that will go all the way to the jury. Additionally, you should ask whether there are any pre-trial motions the lawyer might bring to improve your situation and whether those motions are included in the fee or would be billed separately.

If the attorney works as part of a law firm, ask about other attorneys that might be assigned to work on your case. It is not uncommon for firms to advertise with one fairly well-known “name” to face the public but to have junior lawyers do all the actual work.

With fees in mind, some more established attorneys or firms do not offer free consultations. If you want to work with an attorney who does not provide a free consultation, you should ask about the consultation fee when you make an appointment with the firm. Depending on what is at stake in your case, spending the consultation fee might be well worth the investment. Often, that initial fee will be discounted, waived, or applied to your account as a credit should you decide to retain that attorney.

The cost of criminal defense legal services will depend on the type of case and how vigorously it is fought in court. More serious felony charges, those that carry the risk of jail time, including violent crimes and sex crimes, will always demand higher fees. Lesser drug charges or vehicle violations may be able to be handled through diversion programs to achieve a favorable outcome at a lower cost. Plea bargains can not only help you avoid serious penalties but also help save on legal fees.

With all legal fees, the client must understand precisely what the attorney will charge and how much. Some attorneys or law firms use a flat fee or a one-time payment. Others charge by the hour and require a retainer fee to be paid upfront to secure their professional services. Less commonly, firms will offer to allow clients to pay fees in installments, but you should not expect your lawyer to be motivated on your behalf if you fall behind on the legal bills. However, legal fees can often be negotiated. If the price is too high, ask for a lower fee.

After consulting with a few attorneys, you should have a good idea of which one is best suited to handle your case. Watch out for unrealistic promises, vague responses about fees, or seemingly unprofessional behavior. A lawyer that projects credibility and communicates well is better suited to help you than the one with the fanciest office or most expensive suit.

Public Defenders in Criminal Cases

Anytime you are arrested, you have certain rights that protect your ability to defend yourself from criminal charges. Those legal rights include the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which has been interpreted to include the right to have an attorney appointed for you if you cannot afford to hire one. As a result, criminal defendants often have a public defender provided by the state or county (or even the federal government if facing federal charges) if they do not have enough money to hire legal counsel. A public defender will represent you against the prosecutor, who typically works for the district attorney or attorney general.

Depending on the circumstances, speaking with your public defender may happen in a couple of different ways. It might be on the phone or in person while in police custody or after you have been released in a separate consultation. This first meeting may occur at or immediately before your first court appearance. Whether you remain in jail or are released on bail before then will depend on several factors, including the severity of the crimes charged, the flight risk you are deemed to present, your criminal record, and any record of previous missed court appearances. Once an attorney is appointed, there should be an opportunity to revisit the issue of bail.

The criteria used to determine whether or not you can afford to hire a private attorney varies from state to state (and sometimes from county to county). If you are not represented by your own criminal defense attorney, then the issue will be raised by the court at your first appearance. You may be able to speak with a public defender that day, and you may be asked to fill out a financial questionnaire to determine your eligibility. If you are found to be eligible for a public defender under the local guidelines, then one will be assigned to your case. These attorneys are very busy and handle many cases, so you might not actually speak with that attorney for weeks after the appointment.

As with an initial consultation with a private attorney, the initial consultation with a public defender is privileged. You have every reason to be candid when discussing the details of your case and your situation.

Still, this conversation will likely differ from one with a private attorney in a few noteworthy ways. First, you will likely have less time with the attorney, making it crucial to efficiently communicate essential details of your case and concerns about the prosecution. Second, your ability to reject the representation of the court-appointed attorney and find a different public defender will be drastically limited (and likely will require an order from the presiding judge). So, instead of using the consultation to evaluate the attorney, you should persuade the attorney that your case is worth their time and effort and that you will be a cooperative and communicative client. Establishing a good rapport with your attorney will make it easier for the two of you to work toward your goals for the case.

Most often, the initial consultation and all resulting attorney work from a public defender will be provided for free. However, depending on your income, your county or state may have a sliding fee scale requiring you to pay a percentage of the public defender’s fees. In that case, your initial consultation may also be subject to the sliding fee scale.

Finding the Right Criminal Defense Team

Finding the right criminal defense attorney or law firm to defend you is crucial. Whether you are arrested for domestic violence, drunk driving, or other criminal offenses, that decision starts with the initial consultation. So, it is crucial to understand the fees, if any, that are associated with the initial consultation and other fees you may be charged when hiring a criminal defense team.