Written by attorney Steven K. Burton

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?


The cost for a criminal defense attorney can vary widely and different attorneys use different factors in deciding how much to charge. The most common factors criminal defense attorneys consider are:

-The severity of the charges and possible consequences.

-The number of charges involved.

-The complexity of the case.

-The likelihood that the case will be taken to trial.

For example, if your case involves a single misdemeanor charge, and the charge does not involve any mandatory punishments, then the fee may be very low, perhaps in the range of $800 to $1,200 dollars. However, if the charges involve 1st or 2nd degree felonies, and the case is very complex or difficult, then you can expect to pay between $5,000 and $30,000 for an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Most cases fall somewhere between these two extremes. DUI cases, for example, usually involve the DUI charge as well as one or more related charges. Also, DUI convictions have mandatory punishments such as jail time and/or community service, drug or alcohol treatment, and stiff fines. However, because most DUIs are only misdemeanors, the common fee for a first DUI is between 1,200 and 2,500. Other common misdemeanor cases, such as domestic violence cases or drug possession cases carry similar consequences and it will similarly cost between 1,200 and 2,500 dollars to hire an experienced criminal lawyer.


Some criminal defense attorneys charge an additional trial fee and some do not. What is the difference, and is one better than the other?

A little known fact is that above 95% of all cases filed in court never go to trial! This means that in almost all cases, the attorneys will resolve the case before it reaches the point of trial. Most of the attorneys who do not charge a trial fee will tell you that their fee "covers everything, including the trial." However, because less than 5% of cases ever go to trial, 95% of the time the fee they charge their clients is too high because it includes a "built-in" trial fee. Also, because they are not getting paid any extra to go to trial, they may discourage you to go to trial even if it is in your best interest, and if you do decide you want a trial, they will not be as motivated to spend the extra time to prepare for your trial.

If an attorney does charge a separate trial fee, it is usually a more honest and transparent fee arrangement as long as you know what the trial fee will be before signing an attorney representation agreement. A reasonable trial fee can be anywhere from a couple hundred dollars in a misdemeanor case, to several thousands of dollars in a felony case.

On the other hand, if there is a high likelihood that a case is going to trial, such as in a murder or rape case, then it may not be unusual for attorneys to quote an "all inclusive" fee, because he or she is already anticipating the time and effort it will take to go to trial.


The best way to make sure that you are getting a fair fee is to be completely forthcoming about all of the issues in your case, both good and bad. If you tell the attorney about all the complications in the case, he will probably quote you a higher fee, but the fee will be reasonable because the attorney will be able to more accurately estimate how much time will be necessary to effectively defend your case. If an attorney quotes you a very low fee because you haven't told him all of the difficult issues in the case, then when those issues come up and the attorney has to do extra work to defend you, the honest truth is that most attorneys will not work as hard because they will feel like you didn't tell them the whole story and they are not getting paid fairly for their time.

Lastly, you need to feel like the attorney is completely honest. Some attorneys simply charge too much, even when other attorneys can do just as good a job for a smaller fee. But how do you tell the difference? You ask. Ask the attorney why this case costs this much. Ask why this case will take more time and effort than other cases. Ask why he or she is more expensive than other attorneys. If the attorney is able to give you good honest answers to your questions, you are probably getting a good deal. But if you get a sense that the attorney is not being straightforward with you or he is unable to answer your questions, then he is probably charging you too much.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer