December 16, 2022

Don’t Wing It (The Importance of Hiring a Private Attorney)

I am often asked if it is necessary to spend your own hard-earned money and retain an attorney to defend you in a criminal case. The answer is no. The better question however, might be is it smart to spend your own harder money and retain a private attorney to defend you in a criminal case. To that I say emphatically yes!

In 1961 In Panama City Florida a man was accused of petty larceny. His name was Clarence Earl Gideon. He didn’t have an attorney. He didn’t have the money for an attorney.  The court didn’t seem to mind that. He stumbled through his own prosecution and as you can imagine was convicted and punished. He appealed his case all the way to the United States supreme court. In Gideon versus Wainwright 372 US 335 (1963) the United States Supreme Court decided that the “right to counsel“ that is enshrined in The sixth amendment to our constitution means more than just the right to bring an attorney. It was decided that we should actually provide the accused an attorney if he could not afford one. The thinking was that we as a society can never have confidence in the convictions in our criminal courts unless we know that all the parties were properly represented. As a result, every person in the US accused of a crime where any incarceration is likely must be provided a public defender if the accused cannot afford his own attorney.

Many of our local municipalities and counties have a stable of good lawyers that take these kinds of cases. You should know however that these attorneys are frequently overworked and underpaid. While most of them work diligently for their clients, they are often paid at a reduced hourly rate or on a flat fee basis. That flat fee is often 5 to 10 times less than what a competent private attorney might charge. While court appointed attorneys and public defenders do what they can given their time constraints, and their subconscious need to keep the court happy, it is only reasonable to ask whether they have the ability or desire to make your case a priority. We often ask “if an attorney has a stack of Public defender files on the left side of his desk and a privately retained case on the right side of his desk, which side is more likely to get his attention in the evening, on a Saturday, or even a Sunday?“

We are talking about criminal cases that have tremendous consequences. Public shame, the stigma of a criminal record, loss of driving privileges, even time in jail or prison. The smarter person is the one who realizes that investing in your freedom by hiring a private attorney is the best thing you can do in a criminal case.  It’s very rare to find a person who was planning to get arrested and prosecuted and accordingly saved up for a rainy-day fund for a criminal lawyer. Most people who find themselves arrested for a crime wonder where they will find the money for a lawyer. It is important at times like that to ask whether you may be eligible for a bank loan or whether a family member can loan you some money. It may be time to consider selling a motorcycle, bass boat, or other item of value you own which can’t possibly be as important to you as your freedom. Frankly very few criminal cases are finished in a matter of days. Provided that you can put forward some funding, attorneys frequently allow payment plans. What matters most is that if at all possible, make the personal investment to hire an attorney who can give your case priority. At the end of the day remember the axiom, “you get what you pay for.”