If you have been charged with a criminal offense, it is important that you hire a trial attorney, and not just someone who calls himself a criminal defense lawyer. The population of clients in need of criminal defense representation is often misinformed about lawyers’ credentials. Many clients are attracted to lawyers who outwardly possess material items that society attributes to success: a Rolex watch, fancy Italian suits and shoes, a luxury automobile and lavish office space. Though these are universally recognized signs of financial success, they are in no way indicative of a sharp, talented attorney – the type you hope to have on your side. The financial success of a lawyer often has nothing to do with his or her skill and ability. Therefore, it is important to examine a lawyer’s background and experience before making the often life saving decision to hire him.
It is without a doubt that if charged criminally you should retain a lawyer who handles criminal cases. A large percentage of lawyers claim to handle criminal matters. The reason for this is that many types of criminal cases begin and end quickly; involve very little paperwork; do not actually result in significant penalties (i.e. jail); and are lucrative. This is especially true with misdemeanor offenses. Many lawyers who handle criminal cases charge flat fees regardless of the number of times the lawyer must appear in court on a client’s behalf or the amount of time spent actually preparing the case. Criminal cases are also typically unaffected by economic conditions and arguably when the economy is poor and unemployment is high, more crimes are committed resulting in a spike in criminal cases. For these reasons and more, many lawyers inexperienced in with handling criminal cases, let alone taking them to trial, advertise for criminal defense work. Potential clients should be wary of these profit driven businessmen with law licenses, and instead, retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows his way around a courtroom.
All criminal cases end in one of three possibilities: dismissal of the charge(s); you go to trial where a judge or jury determines guilt or innocence; or you enter into a plea trial agreement which provides that in, exchange for your admission to guilt, you receive an agreed upon sentence. More than 90% of criminal cases resolve themselves with pretrial agreements. This leaves the remaining 10% for dismissal or trial. Cases that resolve in pleas often open and close quickly with the defendant accepting responsibility for his or her actions. Many lawyers seek criminal cases for this very reason knowing full well that they can charge a flat fee of several thousand dollars and in many instances, negotiate a pretrial agreement on a defendant’s behalf in a short period of time, and thereafter close the case after the defendant pleads guilty. This is precisely why you should avoid retaining attorneys who have no trial experience when criminal defense representation is required. Instead, you should hire a trial attorney to represent you during such difficult times.
Being charged with a crime is a sobering and often times a life-altering experience. Criminal charges have grave consequences which vary with each crime and may include jail; expensive fines and assessments; forfeiture of property; loss of license; and other restrictions on liberty such as court supervised rehabilitation and education programs; probation; home confinement; and sex offender registration requirements. There are also the intangible consequences of criminal charges such as the stigma and prejudice associated with having criminal convictions on your record and potential ramifications thereof such as being denied housing, financial assistance or employment opportunities. Because of these factors and more, you should not risk defending against any criminal charge without the direct assistance of a seasoned trial attorney.
A trial lawyer is a criminal defense lawyer with actual trial experience. The criminal justice process begins with an arrest and from that point forward moves towards trial. As stated above, many cases resolve themselves short of an actual trial either by dismissal or by plea. The decisions to proceed to trial versus enter into a pretrial agreement rests solely with the defendant. However, most, if not all, defendants look to their lawyers for recommendations as to how to proceed. Any lawyer, regardless of background, can advise a defendant to plead guilty and any such lawyer can then hold a client’s hand throughout the guilty plea process. But a trial attorney is the type of attorney who actually has the experience and knowledge to truly evaluate the strength and weakness your case. Trial attorneys have battle tested evidence within the four walls of a courtroom by cross-examining witnesses, presenting oral arguments and filing motions to suppress evidence. They have also stood before juries and persuaded them of what types and amounts of evidence constitute guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and what does not. This experience arms the trial lawyer with the real world knowledge required to truly evaluate the particular evidence that forms the government’s case against you. Only after evaluating this evidence, through the eyes of an experienced litigator, can a client be truly advised on how to proceed with his case: whether to plead guilty or to exercise the right to a trial.
Finding a trial lawyer is not always easy. Given the lift on the ban against attorney advertising, many lawyers have websites, post bill boards along the highways, and even run commercial ads on television. Potential clients should not believe everything they hear or read. Instead, they should do their own homework to make sure the lawyer they seek to retain is truly a trial lawyer and has the skill and ability to represent the client’s best interests in court.
The population of trial attorneys is a dying breed. This is the result of several factors. First, as stated above, most cases resolve themselves short of trial so the opportunities for lawyers to acquire actual trial experience are few and far between. Second, economic factors have resulted in many formerly employed attorneys going into solo practice, without first accumulating any significant trial experience, after being laid off from downsizing law firms or shrinking public sector agencies such as the District Attorney or Public Defender’s Office. The lack of trial attorneys in the market is also attributed to the number of lawyers, who once made their living in other then-thriving practice areas, attempting to now earn a living with criminal defense cases. One example is of the real estate attorney who once made handsome profits performing real estate closings when the economy thrived. Due to recent market turndowns, many of these lawyers are now holding themselves out as criminal defense lawyers as a last attempt to keep their law practices alive.
Many lawyers also self inhibit their ability to acquire trial experience. A lawyer who is primarily motivated by profits opposed to his client’s best interest is not likely to acquire much trial experience. Since criminal cases are most often billed on a flat rate basis, a lawyer can increase his profit line and maximize his hourly wage the fewer times he must appear in court on a client’s behalf and the fewer hours he must spend preparing the client’s case. For example, a client who is charged with Driving under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI) may retain an attorney for a flat rate of $3500 for all criminal representation. The attorney earns more money per hour if, after spending two hours working on the case to include court appearances, his client pleads guilty to DUI opposed to electing a trial. There, the attorney must attend the same two court appearances as the more profitable attorney, plus spend several additional on trial preparation and perhaps one or two entire days in court (possible two) actually trying the case. Because of financial pressures or profit motives, some attorneys may be inclined to encourage their client’s to plead guilty opposed to proceeding to trial. Attorneys who engage in this behavior, for these motives, are committing unethical conduct that could cost them both their professional reputation and ability to practice law. Beware of these unscrupulous members of the bar.
Hiring a trial attorney does not mean your case will actually proceed to trial. Most often, pleading guilty is in the client’s best interest and will often be recommended by an experienced trial attorney. Clients who opt to plead guilty are typically rewarded with more lenient sentences than those who proceed to trial and are found guilty. The decisions to plead guilty versus exercise the right to trial is a risk analysis where the client and lawyer attempt to assess the chances of being found not guilty after a trial. It is important for this analysis to be performed so a defendant may make an informed decision about how to resolve his or her case. The analysis is both difficult and complex. Retaining a trial attorney means you will be represented by someone who is experienced at performing this analysis, and specifically, with evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, admissibility and persuasiveness of the state’s evidence, and following that analysis, can provide you with an informed and educated recommendation on how to proceed. Retaining a trial attorney also means your case will be attacked at all phases of pretrial preparation through the filing of applicable motions to limit or reduce the State’s evidence against you should you choose to proceed to trial. This aggressive pretrial work may also result in the dismissal of the charge(s) against you, and is certain to influence the terms of a pretrial agreement should you opt to have your trial attorney negotiate one on your behalf. Overall, hiring a trial attorney will accomplish the important goal of having your case reviewed, analyzed, challenged and presented by a lawyer experienced with trying criminal cases, not just facilitating guilty pleas. If this is your goal, as it should be, you must hire a trial lawyer now.
Attorney Calcagni is a trial lawyer with significant experience. He began his career prosecuting cases in the U.S. Army both as a JAG prosecutor and as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. He now uses the invaluable years of experience he acquired from prosecuting hundreds of criminal cases to help his clients in need of criminal defense representation. Attorney Calcagni is honest, hardworking and committed to seeking justice on his client’s behalves in both state and federal courts. All clients receive a thorough case analysis and evaluation; and benefit from an aggressive pretrial motions practice, investigation, and trial strategy development. If you have been charged with a crime in either state or federal court and seek to employ the assistance of a trial attorney to represent you, please contact Attorney John L. Calcagni III now for a free consultation.