How Much Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Cost?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on January 04, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Criminal defense lawyers vary widely in quality and price. You can pay a lot for an attorney's fancy office but that is no indication of skill in court. Or -- if you are indigent -- you could end up with a truly top notch attorney with lots of experience, appointed by the state, whose fees you do not pay.

Apart from how much a lawyer charges, there are many other factors that influence what you'll pay for a criminal defense attorney. Let's take a look at them here, so you can know what to expect when you hire a lawyer.

Factors at Play

How much you will pay for a lawyer depends on a lot of factors, including your charges, or the crimes in question, your goals and tolerance for legal process or your defense strategy, and your location. There is also the lawyer's fee structure to consider. Some lawyers charge on a per case basis and some at an hourly rate, while others might name an initial fee and adjust as the case continues.

The severity of the charges you face also influence fees. A misdemeanor charge is less severe than a felony, for one, and then there are the facts of your case. If the state is operating with little evidence and your lawyer believes that a dismissal is possible, you might pay for initial court appearances and some negotiations with the prosecutor and be done with the matter.

But if it is more complicated -- and most cases are -- you will have to decide whether to take a negotiated plea or go to trial. Sometimes the cost of pleading guilty is more than anyone can afford, and so a trial is necessary. And sometimes people cannot afford to take the risk of an unknown outcome at trial and their whole goal is just to negotiate a reasonable plea and move on.

If you are accused of a crime and you are subject to incarceration, you are entitled to representation. This is unlike any other area of the law and the reason for the guarantee is that freedom is at stake. Where the state can take someone's liberty, the need for a fair process is highlighted, so the indigent accused are guaranteed a public defender. In other words, everyone needs a criminal defense attorney and money ought not be a factor in justice.

Consult With Counsel

Do not pick your lawyer by the price alone. Meet with the person, assess the attorney's communication skills, and hear what they have to say about your case. Do not assume that a high fee is a guarantee of good representation or that a very busy law office is a sign of successful representation. Some lawyers are good at business and not great representatives.

A good defense lawyer will explain your case to you and give you realistic options. The best defense lawyer for you is the one who has the time and skills to handle your case the way you need it handled.

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