When you’ve been charged with committing a crime in New Jersey, one of the first questions you’re likely to wonder about is whether you should hire a lawyer. This short, simple guide will explain:
- The benefits of hiring a criminal attorney.
- The advantages of choosing a private firm over a public defender.
- Some of the factors that will impact your legal expenses.
- Questions to ask when you’re looking for a defense lawyer.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer? What Are the Advantages?
While no law obligates you to seek private counsel, there are numerous advantages to being represented by a criminal defense attorney, regardless of whether your charges relate to a felony (indictable crime) or a misdemeanor (disorderly persons offense). To provide just a few examples:
- Your attorney has a sophisticated understanding of the defense strategies which may be utilized against your charges, and their likelihood of success.
- Your attorney will handle all of your legal paperwork and make sure that no deadlines are missed.
- Your attorney will intervene if the prosecutor, members of law enforcement, or other parties to your case engage in misconduct or attempt to violate your Constitutional rights.
- Your attorney will help coach and prepare you for trial and other court hearings.
- Your attorney will find and interview witnesses, including expert witnesses where necessary.
- Your attorney can challenge the legality of any events leading up to your arrest, such as the legality of a search and seizure.
How Much Does it Cost to Hire an Attorney? Why Not Get a Public Defender?
You may be feeling tempted to save money by representing yourself in court, or by simply pleading guilty to the charges against you. It is critically important that you do not fall into this trap. While you may save yourself a small amount of money at the outset of the legal process, by foregoing legal advice, you also risk subjecting yourself to tremendous costs in the months and years to come if you are convicted. Consider, for instance, the criminal fines which may be imposed under New Jersey’s laws:
- Misdemeanors (Disorderly Persons/DP Offenses)
- Disorderly Persons Offense – $1,000
- Petty Disorderly Persons Offense – $500
- Felonies (Indictable Crimes)
- Fourth Degree Crime – $10,000
- Third Degree Crime – $15,000
- Second Degree Crime – $150,000
- First Degree Crime – $200,000
These already staggering fines are even larger for select offenses. For instance, when drug possession is graded as a fourth degree crime, the offender can be fined up to $25,000, despite the normal fine being capped at $10,000. Moreover, in addition to your criminal fines, you may also have to pay:
- Restitution to the victim of the crime.
- Fees related to your other penalties, such as the $100 drunk driving fund fee for a DWI conviction.
- Fees related to the expungement, or sealing, of your criminal record.
As attorneys, we understand defendants’ concerns about the cost of legal representation, which is why we make every effort to help accommodate our clients with flexible payment plans. Speaking broadly, the cost of hiring a criminal defense lawyer depends on factors like:
- The firm you select.
- The complexity of the case.
- Whether you choose case billing, hourly billing, or a retainer fee.
As a final word of caution, be sure to put in some research before deciding to apply for a public defender instead of hiring a private attorney. Public defenders, while often driven and talented, are chronically impaired by excessive caseloads. The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that among 22 state programs surveyed, 15 of them exceeded the maximum recommended number of cases per public defender. A private attorney has greater resources upon which to call, and can devote his or her undivided attention to handling your case aggressively.
Questions to Ask Your Potential Counsel
A criminal conviction can change your life forever, so the attorney you choose is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever have to make. But when there are thousands of firms to select from, how do you begin narrowing down the list?
One of the very best ways to get started is to call around and ask plenty of questions. After you’ve spoken to some potential candidates, whether it’s three people or 33 people, you’ll have a much clearer idea of which attorney is right for you. Remember, depending on the nature and complexity of your case, you could be working with this person for months or even years. You and your lawyer may need to discuss very personal and sensitive issues, so he or she should be a person whom you trust and feel comfortable with. If the lawyer you speak to seems rude, impatient, vague, or inexperienced, move on to another candidate.
Listed below are some key points you may want to discuss with your potential attorney:
- How many years of experience do you have?
- What types of cases do you handle? Have you ever handled a case like mine?
- Do you have any special qualifications or training related to my charges?
- Have you ever had any ethics violations?
- If we work together, how often should I expect to be meeting or speaking with you? How will I know when there are changes or developments in my case?
- What is the most likely outcome for cases like mine?
- What sort of rates would you charge for a case like mine?
- What are my responsibilities going to be? What do you need from me?
The attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych have over 45 years of combined experience representing adult and juvenile defendants in the Atlantic County and Cape May County area. We handle traffic violations, criminal appeals, misdemeanors, and felony charges, including disorderly conduct, speeding tickets, DWI/DUI, drug possession and distribution, aggravated assault, gun crimes and weapons trafficking, probation violations, homicide, possession of child pornography and other sex crimes, theft, and casino crimes. To speak privately about your case in a free legal consultation, call our law offices at (609) 616-4956, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Se habla español.