Most of us hope we will never need the services of a criminal defense lawyer since being charged with a crime is overwhelming and extremely stressful. Moreover, if the need should arise, you face a bit of a quandary since there are numerous criminal defense attorneys and those unfamiliar with the legal system may have difficulty deciding whom to hire.
What about a public defender?
If cost is an issue you may be eligible to obtain a public defender. However, Maine is the only state in the country that does not have a public defender’s office. Instead, it makes available private attorneys to represent defendants who are unable to pay legal costs. Keep in mind that this court-appointed system does not permit you to choose your court-appointed lawyer as the court simply appoints the next lawyer on the list. Since the level of experience among lawyers on the court-appointed list varies greatly, you are subject to “the luck of the draw” so to speak.
How to begin searching
Start by asking family, friends, or someone you trust for referrals. There is a great deal of information available online, but be careful, as not all online sites are trustworthy. If you have been charged in a federal criminal matter, you should make sure that your attorney is admitted to practice in federal court and has demonstrable experience in handling federal criminal matters since the rules and practices are much different than in state court.
Hiring an attorney who is located near you will make it more convenient to attend consultations. Equally importantly, a locally based attorney will be familiar with the court procedures, judges, and prosecutors dealing with your case.
The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar governs the conduct of lawyers. You may wish to check to see if your prospective attorney is a member in good standing of the bar and whether he or she has been publicly disciplined. Martindale.com, AVVO and Findlaw websites are informative since their listings of attorneys provide accurate and reliable assessments of a lawyer’s competence and ethical standards.
Finally, you should make an appointment for a consultation with the lawyer you are considering. Be prepared to discuss all pertinent details about your case, such as the specific charges, the facts surrounding the charge and your arrest, and whether others were involved or are important witnesses. The more reliable information you can provide to your prospective lawyer, the more he or she can advise you about the charges, possible defenses, and prospects of successfully resolving the case going forward. Keep in mind that during the initial consultation, your attorney should be able to discuss issues affecting your case, but will not be able to assure you of the ultimate outcome. In fact, be wary of an attorney who purports to guarantee an outcome or a particular result.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions
In order to make an informed decision, you want to know as much as possible about your case. Many people are nervous or intimidated during an initial consultation and forget to ask all of their questions. Thus it may be helpful to make a list of questions you and to take notes during the consultation if necessary to make sure you fully understand. Your questions may include:
- What are my legal options?
- Is it possible to avoid jail time?
- Is it possible to negotiate a lesser penalty?
- How long have you been in practice?
- How many of these types of cases have you handled?
- Will there be other staff working on my case, such as paralegals or other support staff?
- Who will be representing me in court?
- How will I be kept informed on the progress of my case?
- If I have a question, how long does it usually take to get a response?
- What is the best way for me to communicate with you?
- Can you estimate your fees for my case?
- Are your fees a set amount or an hourly rate?
- What are the charges for non-lawyer services?
- Are there other fees or costs, such as filing fees, copy fees, etc.?
- How often will I be billed? (Your attorney should provide you with a written fee agreement for your review.)
- How much is the retainer or minimum first payment?
You need the best criminal defense attorney for your case
Being charged with a crime is traumatic. You need someone who understands the legal issues related to your case and has the experience to take advantage of such issues and other defenses. You need someone who prosecutors, judges, juries, and especially you, respect. In the end, the attorney-client relationship comes down to trust. Richard S. Berne is an experienced and dedicated criminal defense lawyer who will use all his skills and experience to achieve the best result possible in your case. For more information or a free consultation, call 207-871-7770 or contact us online .