7 Questions you need to ask your Criminal Defense Attorney (to ensure a good defense)
DISCOVERY -- EVIDENCE -- INVESTIGATIONHas your lawyer obtained and reviewed all "Discovery", including: police reports, witness
statements, video and audio tapes, photographs and other material provided through "discovery" by the Prosecutor? Has the attorney made copies of all of it and reviewed it with you? What is your attorney's evaluation of the evidence? What is the "worst evidence" against you? Has you attorney considered not only what evidence is there, but what evidence is not there (missing)? What physical or testimony evidence does the prosecution rely on open to challenge? Or what evidence does the DA not have that could mean dismissal of your case? Are there eyewitnesses that should be interviewed? What sort of defense investigation should be conducted to find that evidence to disprove your guilt?
CLIENT ACTIONS - What should you do?Sometimes there are steps you can (and should) take which will dramatically lessen your sentence. What should you be doing to improve the outcome of your case? Are there records or other information you can get to provide your lawyer or bring to court? Should you enroll in any classes, counseling, or a drug rehabilitation program that will lessen your sentence? What role will you play at trial as a potential testifying witness or observer?
STRATEGYWhat is your lawyer's preliminary evaluation of the case against you? What defenses are available to you? What is the best defense strategy? What are the risks and benefits of strategy? Can your attorney mount a successful defense at trial or is it in your best interests to plea bargain?
PLEA BARGAINSThe vast majorities of criminal cases do not go to trial, but are settled through negotiation. Determining a fair plea bargain is both an art and a science. This is where your Attorney's knowledge and experience are essential. The first factor includes a careful evaluation of the strength of your case and evaluation of the odds of winning or losing at trial. Then, given your odds at trial, you and your attorney need to balance your uncertain sentence, (if convicted at trial) with the certain sentence of the deal / offer if you plea and "cut your losses". What sort of offer does your attorney believe the prosecution will make? What can your attorney do to improve the prosecution's offer? What counter-offer are you prepared to make? What can reasonably be expected? What is the standard range in similar cases? Can you do better? Consider
your "maximum sentence exposure" if you go to trial and lose compared to taking a plea bargain.
COSTSHow much defense investigation needs to be done, and what will it cost? Do you need to hire Expert Witnesses to testify for you at trial? How much will they cost? Is their testimony worth it? What is the time table preparing for trial; how long will the trial last and what will it cost?
SENTENCING ALTERNATIVESAre there any Sentencing Alternatives to standard Jail that you may be eligible for, such as electronic home detention, Sheriff's Work Program, Work Furlough, or community service? Are there any standard or creative Probationary Terms that are preferable to you which will satisfy the prosecution and court's concerns and allow you to receive a lesser sentence, easier to accept? Some clients want to avoid fines, others want to keep their driver's license, others want to avoid jail, and others who are not citizens, just want to remain in the U.S. If your attorney fully understands your needs and goals, s/he can craft an alternative sentence that protects your most important concerns and hurts you the least.
MOTIONS -- Legal Defenses (Due Process and your constitutional rightsIs your attorney ensuring that you are being given Due Process and that your constitutional rights are not being violated? Sometimes you can win a case on a legal point. Considerations include:
1. Did the police conduct a SEARCH where evidence was seized from your home, car or person? Can the legality of the search be to challenged by a Motion to Suppress? (Is the evidence against you inadmissible & thus can your case be dismissed?)
2. Did the Police detain you or arrest you & question you and, if so did you make a statement to the police? Were you properly "Mirandized" If not, is this statement (& any evidence it lead to) inadmissible at trial & be suppressed? How damaging is it to your case? How will your defense strategy change based on the admissibility of the evidence or statements?
3. Are there legal issues with the charges filed? Can you demur to the complaint? Are the charges based on events that happened years ago and can you bring a Speedy Trial Motion to dismiss?