Monday, August 30, 2010

They admitted the other driver was at fault! I don’t want a lawyer getting a piece of my settlement! Why won’t they settle?

We often hear from frustrated personal injury victims who don’t understand why an insurance company won’t just offer them a reasonable settlement when, after all, they’ve been injured and the other party was clearly at fault. Quite often people try to settle their claims without hiring an experienced injury attorney.

More often than not, by the time we meet with such clients, they tell us the insurance adjuster with whom they’ve been dealing has either A) made an unreasonable, insulting offer, or B) just keeps giving them the runaround.

Why should I give a car accident lawyer a percentage of my settlement when the law is on my side, you ask?

At the end of the day, insurance companies (and their adjusters) are above all else, trying to make a buck. Most seasoned insurance adjusters view unrepresented individuals as easy targets; they think that without an experienced personal injury defense attorney involved in the case, you will take whatever lowball offer they make.

An experienced auto accident law firm will know how to value a case, which means the right injury attorney will advise you on a reasonable settlement range. And if the insurance company doesn’t make a reasonable offer, your lawyer will tell you it’s unreasonable and advise you to go to trial.

Yes, this means that a percentage of your settlement will go to your personal injury defense attorney. But nine times out of ten, the adjuster you’re dealing with won’t begin to discuss a reasonable and appropriate settlement until they get a call from your lawyer – whether you’re in Portland, Vancouver, or Bend. Insurance companies know how to play people and they will do whatever they can to win.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I’ve been arrested or charged with a crime. Now what?

A pending criminal case can be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life.

Regardless of whether a person is looking at a misdemeanor DUI, drug offense or serious felony that carries a maximum minimum penalty, the months or years it takes to resolve such a matter will be very hard on even the most optimistic person.

Hiring the right defense attorney is a critical step in successful resolution, whether that means avoiding jail or prison or going all the way to trial with a seasoned criminal defense attorney who will give you the best chance of a not guilty verdict.

If you open the phonebook in Portland, you will find hundreds of lawyers who sell themselves as the best criminal attorney in town. But how can you truly know if that Portland lawyer has the experience, smarts, aggressiveness, and reputation to get you the results you need?

Of equal importance, if you need a lawyer, you should hire someone with whom you feel comfortable. A lawyer who demonstrates good customer service and recognizes that you, the client, should always have phone calls returned, questions answered, and issues explained to you in a way that is not condescending, but communicated in a way you understand (no fancy lawyer speak!).

Not all criminal lawyers have experience with all types of charges. While driving under the Influence charges are usually misdemeanors (meaning the maximum jail time is one year), good DUI defense lawyers understand the complexities of such cases. It’s not just a matter of was she or wasn’t she driving under the influence. There are many challenges DUI attorneys can make to the methods and tests employed by the police officer who made the arrest. But those challenges require experience. Just because someone markets themselves as a DUI attorney, that doesn’t mean you should hire them.

When you meet with a criminal defense attorney in Portland, Vancouver or elsewhere, you should interview them. Ask them how many similar cases they’ve had. Ask them how many of those cases went to trial? Ask specifics about their practice – what percentage is criminal and what percentage is other kinds of law. How often do they practice in the county where you were charged? Have they ever had a founded bar complaint?

There are several lawyer referral websites you can search to learn specific information about the attorney you’re looking to hire. Such sites provide client reviews (good and bad) as well as endorsements from other lawyers who have worked with these individuals. Do your homework!

And at the end of the day, you should feel comfortable with your attorney: comfortable speaking openly about your case or your circumstances; comfortable calling your attorney with any questions or concerns, and comfortable that your defense lawyer, above anything else, is advocating for you and your interests. Trust your instincts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A twenty-five year prison sentence for stealing food?

For those of you who think only hardened, violent criminals are subjected to the harsh mandatory minimum sentences enforced across the country (including Oregon), let us introduce you to Gregory Taylor, a homeless, hungry Californian sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to break into a church kitchen to find something to eat.

Thanks to the work of Stanford University law students and the law school’s “three strikes project,” a Superior Court judge amended Gregory Taylor's sentence to his eight years already served. The 47-year-old, who was sentenced in 1997 to 25 years to life, will be a free man in a few days.

Due to two prior robbery convictions in the 1980s (one for stealing a purse containing $10 and the other for trying to rob a man on the street—neither of which involved the use of a weapon, and neither of his victims was injured), Taylor was convicted under California’s notorious three-strikes law.

While Oregon’s mandatory minimum statute is not exactly the same as California’s, the result is the same. In Oregon, for certain offenses, the circumstances of the case are irrelevant and judges have no discretion with regard to sentencing. Regardless of the individual’s background, age, criminal history (or lack thereof), or the role he or she played during the criminal act, if convicted of one of the specified crimes, that person will be sentenced to prison for a very long time. If the District Attorney is unwilling to reduce the charge, even the best Portland criminal attorney will have few strategic options if their client is convicted.

Stated simply, the mandatory minimum-sentence requirement does not work. It sends homeless people to prison for years for trying to steal food. It prohibits judges from using their training, experience, knowledge and common sense when sentencing defendants.

Ask yourself why we should have judges if they’re not allowed to make the decisions that would best serve our communities?