How do I know if I can afford a criminal attorney?

By | October 22, 2013

There may be a time when you find yourself with a legal issue but uncertain whether or not you can hire a criminal attorney. When this happens, it’s important to figure out whether you can afford one, and if not, what you can do to still get the legal help you need.

Imagine this scenario: An officer just wants to “talk with you” or you’ve just been arrested for one reason or another. There is never a good time to be charged with criminal activity, but when it does happen, you need to be on the ball with getting your defense set up. The only line of defense you will have at this point is a good attorney.

The crime could be any number of ones in the book, even for one you didn’t realize was a crime. People are often surprised with the ramifications that these charges can come with. The obvious ones include fines and imprisonment, but it can also affect more than just the short term; having that stain on your record can hinder your ability to obtain home or student loans, retain custody, get a job, get credit or become employed, among others.

Attorney Fees
The politicians who have prided themselves on being tough on crime are the ones who have turned the system into one that churns out convictions, leaving prosecutions to be more about money in an effort to balance a budget that is strained in this day and age. With that in mind, if you’ve been charged, you now have crosshairs over your head; you’ll need a good lawyer to defend yourself.

The truth is you’ll need to pay for your attorney, probably more than you will expect to pay. You’ll also likely need to pay a fee up front before he will assist in your legal case. Most criminal attorneys are willing to provide a flat fee at the start of a case while others offer payment plans. Some of the costs you’ll need to keep in mind include transcripts, subpoena fees, reproduction of discovery and the cost of investigators.

If you are not financially stable enough to get a criminal lawyer, the best advice you will receive is to make it happen anyway. If there is ever a good time to ask for help from your family, friends or even your employer, this is it. You are fighting for your freedom, your future and your life; you don’t want a discount if you can help it.

Talk to relatives and those close to you, informing them you’ll need a lawyer for a charge. If possible, borrow from them or use your credit cards as most defense lawyers will accept them. You may even sometimes get an emergency credit card from your bank. If you can sell assets, this is also worth looking into so that you don’t need to deal with imprisonment or lost employment from a criminal conviction.

Remember, you can always get your assets back, but you can rarely erase the stains of your reputation. Nobody gets a second chance when it comes to a criminal charge, and the repercussions will carry with you farther than your car will. You may not be able to reasonably afford a good defense lawyer, but you definitely can’t afford not to hire one.

Public Defender
If you cannot come up with emergency funds or borrow from those close to you, the Constitution still gives you the right to get help from an attorney. If you are unable to afford a lawyer, you can request to be represented by a public defender, which is a lawyer that the government pays to work for you. If you do plan to go this route, there are a few things you will need to know first.

For example, you are not going to be appointed a public defender unless you really are not able to afford one of your own. With that in mind, you might be asked to offer proof of the money you make as well as what assets you own that may qualify. Each state will vary in terms of what assets qualify, and you might even be asked to provide some in order to help pay for what it would cost to hire the public defender.

Even with that, you will not be able to pick which public defender you want. The government will assign one to you, which means the quality of your lawyer will vary. If you are facing charges that could result in prison time, you will need to seriously ask yourself if you are willing to put yourself in the hands of the public defender roulette or if you can try to seek out other options.

Pro Bono Programs
Another option is a pro bono program, which you can find at many bar associations. These are staffed by attorneys who have agreed to provide legal representation at no cost to clients who are eligible. There are a number of factors that can help you qualify, such as your income, being elderly, being an abused spouse or having a disease like AIDS.

Similar to getting a public defender, you might be asked to provide proof of your qualifications as well as provide information on the assets you have.

If you do opt for a pro bono lawyer or one with lower costs, don’t be put off by cheap furniture or the young age of the attorney. Remember that the limited money that is put into this kind of program goes largely to office supplies and similar overhead. In addition, your lawyer might already be handling several cases, so you may need to have patience if he does not immediately return your calls.

Regardless of your path, it is very helpful to keep a copy of everything regarding your case, such as bills, letters, contracts and much more. Remember to always stick with the facts when working with your criminal attorney on a case. Finally, don’t worry that you may be looked down on just for not having money; chances are good that your lawyer has faced financial trouble himself at some point or knows someone who has.

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