If you are accused of a committing a crime, you should seriously consider retaining a criminal defense attorney, especially if jail or prison time is a possibility. Also, recognize that a criminal conviction goes on your public record and can cause considerable obstacles in finding suitable employment, advancing in your career, finding housing, obtaining credit or even being deported if you are not a U.S. citizen.
You first need to find a competent defense attorney who has routinely handled cases like yours. If it is a DUI, find an attorney who has considerable experience handling these, or who does so exclusively. For felonies, find one who has years of experience in state and federal courts since many of these defense attorneys have tried numerous jury trial cases, appear in court weekly and are familiar with the prosecutors and judges in your jurisdiction. You can find such attorneys by referrals from family or friends, your local bar association referral service or you can get referrals from legal professionals in other areas of practice.
The Initial Meeting
Before your first meeting, write down any questions you have about your case and the attorney. For instance, has the defense lawyer handled similar cases, is he/she familiar with the judges and prosecutors, how many jury trials does he/she handled and what will this cost?
You have to be prepared to be totally honest about the facts of your case and your past. Any discussion with your attorney is privileged and may not be disclosed to anyone other than the attorney’s staff who also may not disclose the content of your discussions. If you are not truthful and omit certain material or even seemingly irrelevant points, your attorney cannot mount a viable defense, and you risk a later disclosure in court that can be devastating to your case. It also may be too late to offer a reasonable explanation or find evidence contradicting or challenging the omitted fact or evidence.
Your defense lawyer will question you about the facts underlying your case and arrest, the content of any discussions with witnesses and your relationships with involved parties and victims. You may expect to be grilled or questioned intensely by your attorney to see if your version can withstand the scrutiny you can expect from the DA and to uncover any gaps or discrepancies in your statement, if any.
Let your attorney know if you made a statement to law enforcement while in custody that may implicate you in wrongdoing. It may have been extracted unlawfully if threats were made or undue influence was at play, force was applied or you were not properly advised that you were entitled to an attorney and could remain silent.
What to Bring to the Consultation
If you have already appeared in court, you will have received a copy of the complaint and possibly a police report. If not, your attorney will receive them at your first appearance or arraignment and through discovery. Many clients are arrested for probation or parole violations, so your attorney needs to see what conditions were imposed on you and determine if you violated one, or if a reasonable explanation can be formulated. Depending on where your criminal case originated, an attorney may be able to access these records electronically.
Any tickets or citations or any other paperwork received from law enforcement or the court needs to be brought with you, including those with court dates as well as search warrants and arrest warrants. It is not that uncommon for law enforcement to find evidence that was obtained from you, your house or place of business in violation of a search warrant. If there was a TRO, temporary restraining order, or other injunction that you are accused of violating, these need to be reviewed to determine if you did violate a condition or if the court-imposed conditions are too restrictive or unreasonable.
Also, write down identifying information on any witnesses, favorable or not, to your case. Your attorney will need to contact them and, if possible, obtain oral or written statements from them. If you took a blood or other test, inform your attorney of the results, if known, or where and when they were taken.
Once the attorney has a grasp on your case, then the discussion may center on its strengths and weaknesses. Possible punishments and best case scenario to worst case may be explored. More importantly, your attorney needs to fashion one or more defenses.