Why, When, and How You Should Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney in Florida
People who have been charged with crimes in Jacksonville and throughout the state often question whether they need to hire a criminal defense attorney. While the technical answer is no, it is almost always in a person’s best interest to retain a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney when you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime.
Why You Should Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
In Florida the criminal courts operate by using a system of rules and procedures that are unfamiliar to most outside the legal system. When you choose to proceed without an attorney, you are still expected to know and follow these long established protocols, just like a trained and seasoned attorney. Moreover, if you fail to follow the procedural rules Courts in Florida will not typically excuse such breaches and the consequences can significantly impact the outcome of your case.
For instance, while in many cases defendants’ charged with crimes want to suppress evidence obtained by the government. But achieving such a result is far more complicated than simply telling the Court you want something suppressed. First, it has to be determined that there was a violation that would support suppression of the seized evidence. Second, one has to develop an effective way to prove the facts demonstrating this violation. Then once such circumstances are in place, it is necessary to file a formal motion to suppress that lays out the legal precedent and justification for the suppression. After this a person would be required to present facts and argument at a formal suppression hearing that convince the Court that suppression is warranted.
If this is starting to sound complex and a bit overwhelming, that’s because it is. And that is just a cursory overview of one potential aspect of a criminal case. Said more bluntly the criminal justice system in Florida is complex and attempting to navigate it on your own without proper training could lead to disaster. As a general rule, any time your freedom is at stake, it’s in your best interest to have an experienced advocate handling your defense. But, what about relatively minor crimes like misdemeanors?
Do You Really Need a Criminal Defense Attorney when Charged with a Misdemeanor?
Sometimes people believe that misdemeanors are minor offenses and it isn’t necessary to get an attorney. Unfortunately people who adopt this view and choose not to confer with an experienced criminal defense lawyer almost always regret it. The reason being that criminal prosecutions, even for a misdemeanor can often have unforeseen and far reaching consequences. For example convictions for misdemeanors like battery might bar you from finding certain housing in the future or prohibit you from entering or remaining in certain fields of employment. Likewise, a conviction for possession of cannabis without a prescription will result in a suspension of your driver’s license. But these are just some of the varied consequences that a person could bring down upon themselves if not properly advised or represented. So regardless of how minior you may initially think an offense to be, if you’re charged with any crime in Florida you should always confer with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
But if that example wasn’t enough to convince you that it’s best to have an experienced attorney aiding you if charged with a crime, here’s another. Did you know that some misdemeanor offenses have more than just a criminal component to them? Well they do. In fact when it comes to a DUI there is a criminal side and an administrative side to address. Moreover, ignorance of the dual nature of these proceedings could not only cause an individual to miss out on a critical opportunity to challenge the suspension of their drivers license, but it could also cost them a chance to obtain priceless discovery.
So if you or a loved one have been arrested for or charged with a misdemeanor don’t ignore it or overlook its significance. Instead reach out to a skilled and respected criminal defense lawyer for assistance. You’ll be glad that you did.
What Happens if you Don’t Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
People often ask, “what happens if I get arrested or charged with a crime and I don’t hire a criminal defense lawyer?” The answer to this question depends upon the reason why a defendant doesn’t hire an attorney. If a person charged with a crime cannot afford an attorney then the Court will appoint a public defender to represent them at no cost to them. However if an individual is charged with a crime and simply chooses not to hire an attorney, then this person would be required to represent themselves. Unfortunately, self-representation is almost always a bad decision as most people don’t have the training, experience, and knowledge to effectively represent themselves. Furthermore, when life and liberty are on the line, such things are better left to the capable hands of an expert in criminal trial law. So if you or a loved one have recently been arrested, don’t wait, call Lufrano Legal at call 904-513-3905 or fill out our contact form to set up a free consultation.
Read More: How Does Sentencing Work in a Florida Criminal Case?
When You Should Hire a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
The short answer is “right away.” As you’ve already seen, one reason it’s important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney is that what you don’t know can hurt you. That means it’s easy to make mistakes, whether that means missing a deadline you weren’t aware of or saying something in court or in a discussion with the prosecuting attorney that could be misconstrued and used against you.
Your defense attorney can also save you time and stress by quickly identifying pressure points, weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, witnesses, evidence in your favor, and opportunities to suppress evidence against you. Depending on the circumstances, your defense attorney may be able to use this material to negotiate a favorable plea agreement or persuade the prosecuting attorney to reduce the charges or even dismiss the case. Or, your attorney may advise fighting the charges in court. That may mean filing a motion to suppress key evidence or witness testimony, which may result in the charges being dismissed. Or, it may mean going to trial, where the burden of proof will be on the prosecution. Even if you plan to plead guilty, it’s still a good idea to consult with an attorney—you may have options you wouldn’t know about otherwise.
You’ll also want to consult with a defense attorney, even if you’re innocent and being wrongfuly accused. As soon as police start asking questions, the urge to set the record straight will be strong, you’ll feel like you could easily clear things up—but this can backfire.
How an Attorney Can Help Negotiate a Plea Agreement
Of course, you should never assume it’s too late. Consulting an attorney late in the process is better than not consulting one at all. But, to give your criminal lawyer the best opportunity to protect you every step of the way, it’s ideal to act quickly. That means contacting an attorney as soon as you know you’ve been charged with a crime. Under some circumstances, it may even be wise to consult a lawyer before you’re charged. For example, it’s generally best not to talk to police on your own. So, if police want to question you regarding a crime, it’s a good idea to hire an attorney. Your lawyer can advise you as to whether you should speak with the police, and be with you during questioning if you decide to go ahead.
Remember that any time you are being detained by the police, you have the right to request an attorney and you are not required to answer questions. Don’t be afraid to assert your rights and request an attorney.
How to Hire a Criminal Lawyer in Florida
Deciding to hire a criminal defense attorney is just the first step. But while deciding to hire an attorney is crucial, it’s equally important to ensure that you find the right attorney. Here are a few key things to look for when you’re choosing a criminal lawyer:
- Choose a lawyer who has extensive experience with the criminal justice system: If you don’t have a lot of experience with the legal system, you may not realize how different various areas of law are. Many people who are looking for representation default to an attorney whose name they have heard on TV. But, not every attorney has extensive knowledge and experience of criminal defense law and procedure. Make sure the attorney you choose has a strong background in cases like yours.
- Make sure your attorney is prepared to go to trial: While most criminal cases are resolved by some form of negotiated agreement, it’s important to know that your attorney knows how to fight for you in the courtroom if necessary. Unfortunately, some attorneys prefer to avoid trial, and the inability of such attorneys to be able to advocate for their client in the courtroom could result in a poor outcome. So don’t be afraid to ask the attorney you’re considering how often they’ve taken criminal cases to jury trials.
- Know who you’ll be working with: In some firms, especially larger law firms, you’ll hear all about the experience of a partner who does a lot of criminal work. You may even meet with that partner for your initial consultation. But then, your case may be handed off to an associate, or bounced from one person to another. Make sure you know exactly who will be handling your case, and that you are comfortable with and have faith in that attorney. It’s your future on the line and it’s important that you can ask questions and raise concerns, and that your attorney will take the time to explain in plain English.
- Understand how fees and other costs work: Some attorneys bill by the hour, and others on a flat-fee per case. Some bill you separately for expenses like service of process fees, while others roll those costs into their fixed fee. Before you sign your contract, make sure you know exactly what to expect.
Read more: Best Practices for Working with your Defense Lawyer
Get the Help You Need Right Now
The bottom line is that it’s risky and stressful to take on the criminal justice system on your own. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide the guidance you need to make smart decisions for your future, while managing the technical and procedural aspects of the case that are daunting and unfamiliar to most outside the legal system.
You can seek representation at any point in the process, but the earlier you get help the better. Your attorney can help you avoid mistakes that could hurt your defense, and can put that additional time to good use investigating and building your case.
You’ll want to choose your lawyer carefully, so start with a consultation. Ask questions based on the points listed above and any others you have. Make sure you’re comfortable talking with the attorney and that they take the time to explain things in a way you understand.
Attorney Matthew Lufrano has practiced criminal law exclusively for more than a decade. He’s taken well over 75 criminal cases to jury trial, and the Florida Bar has recognized him as a Board Certified Expert in Criminal Trial Law. To schedule a consultation, call 904-513-3905 or fill out our contact form.