Being charged with a criminal offense can be a scary experience. It’s bad enough being arrested and interrogated. The thought of facing a judge and possibly a jury can be overwhelming.
When you’re facing criminal charges, your attorney is your rock. It’s imperative that you choose a good attorney who will fight for you in the courtroom. However, to find the right attorney, you need to do more than just make some phone calls – you need to ask questions.
To get the best possible attorney on your side, here are four important questions to ask during your consultations.
1. What is your background and experience as a defense attorney?
Criminal defense attorneys are not all the same. There are many aspects to criminal law, and therefore many areas of practice.
You want your defense attorney’s background and experience to match your case. For example, if you’re being charged with a DUI, your attorney should specialize in DUI cases.
When consulting with a lawyer, ask what percentage of their cases involve your charges. Keep in mind that some lawyers have multiple areas of expertise (like assault, drugs, and DUI/DWI).
2. What are your legal fees for representation?
Know what your legal fees will be upfront. However, don’t choose a lawyer based on cost alone. Granted, you’ll need to work within your budget, but don’t choose a cheaper lawyer just because you’ll save some money. Your future isn’t worth that risk.
3. If I’m convicted, can I go on house arrest to avoid prison?
Prison can be a scary place. For non-violent offenses, it’s possible to go on house arrest instead of going to prison at the judge’s discretion. Although it sounds like the perfect deal, it’s not all roses.
House arrest is a punishment and comes with strict rules. Breaking the rules can result in being sent to prison. For example, you can still go to work and school, but you’ll be required to come home by a certain time. You’ll also be required to wear a monitor, likely around your ankle.
House arrest does sound better than jail, but it will set you back some cash. In most cases, offenders need to foot the bill for the equipment and monitoring service. Depending on your county and your crime(s), you might need to pay $800 to $1,000 per month to stay on house arrest.
To qualify for house arrest, you’ll need to meet specific criteria, including (but not limited to):
· No long history of criminal offenses. First-time offenders are more likely to be granted house arrest.
· No violent convictions. Violent offenders are considered high risk and aren’t given the opportunity to go on house arrest.
· You’re a minor being cared for by your parents or legal guardian.
· You have a strong employment history.
· Probation would be too lenient for your crime, but jail would be too harsh.
Most of the time, non-violent offenders with dependents are granted house arrest so they can continue caring for their family.
4. How will a conviction affect my future?
It’s important to know what you can expect your life to be like if you’re convicted. Unlike a bankruptcy that disappears from your credit report after seven years, a criminal conviction will carry penalties throughout the course of your life. Some of the consequences can make your life a little inconvenient, while others can make your life challenging.
Felony convictions carry the worst lifelong penalties. For example:
· Employment opportunities are limited for felons. For instance, you can’t work for a government agency with a felony conviction on your record.
While employers can’t discriminate against felons, they can reject felons if their crime is related to the job. For instance, someone convicted of a felony DUI won’t get hired as a delivery driver for a pizza parlor. However, they might get hired as a janitor or wait staff.
· Felons lose the right to possess a firearm. In some states, like Colorado, felons can’t own any weapons, including air guns that shoot plastic pellets, CO2 BB guns, and pellet guns.
In Texas, a felon can apply to have their firearms rights restored if they meet certain requirements. However, there’s no guarantee those rights will be restored.
· In most states, convicted felons lose voting rights unless they apply and are approved to have their rights reinstated.
· Some landlords won’t rent to convicted felons, but it depends on the offense.
Don’t settle for less than you deserve
If you don’t click with the attorneys you contact, keep calling around until you find someone you feel understands your situation. Lawyers are people, and sometimes personalities clash. Don’t hold out too long, but never settle for less than you deserve.