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.

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