There are few things more precious than your freedom or that of a loved one. A close second is personal reputation. Both of these can be at risk in a criminal prosecution.
In my 33 years of criminal practice, I have seen many good people, those admired in their community and professions, charged with criminal offenses where they face these consequences. Some are completely innocent of the accusation. Some have made a momentary lapse in judgment where criminal responsibility is questionable. Then there are those who are facing consequences for clear criminal conduct.
While it is an oversimplification of the spectrum of criminal law situations, the universal truth is they all need expert guidance. Most will never need one, but those seeking advice or representation from a defense attorney need to remember a few important points when seeking help.
Know how much lawyer you need. With relatively simple traffic matters, you will most likely not need highly experienced counsel. Cases involving traffic violations like speeding or red lights can be usually handled by a newer attorney at a lower cost. However, any charge carrying possible jail time, from OVI, driving under suspension or hit-skip require more experience and expertise and should not be taken lightly. Obviously, any felony charge can have lifelong repercussions and a myriad of collateral consequences (professional license issues, gun rights, child custody to name a few).
In a felony situation, you will need to seek counsel as soon as possible. If you suspect you are the subject of an investigation, reach out to an experienced lawyer. Never speak to police or an investigator without first consulting an attorney.
Be an informed consumer. If you know a lawyer, a good place to start is by asking for a referral to someone who concentrates in criminal law. People in law enforcement or who work in the court system also probably know respected and established practitioners. Do not just rely on what an attorney says about themselves on their website or advertising. For that matter, online client reviews, while helpful, should also be considered with caution.
When you reach out to an attorney, don’t lead with how much will this cost. The attorney knows you are thinking about it, but since they should be willing to give you some time at no charge, talk about your problem. Then, if you and the attorney are comfortable, move on to the discussion of cost. There should not be a fixed fee for a particular type of criminal charge.
Each case will have specific issues of fact and law that can give an attorney an idea of how much time they will have to spend on achieving your goals. It is also important to learn about the attorney’s experience in the particular venue. There is an enormous difference between municipal, state and federal courts. Remember, even if you choose not to hire the attorney, any information you share about what occurred in your case is absolutely privileged.
Most importantly, zero in on your problem. Ask the attorney about their experience with the type of case, with the court and with the principles (police officer, prosecutors and judges) who may be involved.
In criminal matters, you often only get one chance to get it right. Therefore, once you find a lawyer you can trust tell, them everything about your situation. The right attorney should give you some clear guidance on the applicable law and what the important factual issues are. They should advise as to next steps. Most criminal cases are evolving situations, and some can be very complex. While the attorney may not be able to tell you exactly what will happen in the end, you should feel you have an expert guide to get you to the best possible result.
When your liberty and assets are in jeopardy from any type of criminal or professional investigation, seek counsel with an experienced and respected defender.
Michael J. Goldberg is founding attorney of The Goldberg Law Firm in Cleveland.
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