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Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 10:58 pm
Choosing the Right Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey: Mistakes to Avoid
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in New Jersey, having the right defense lawyer by your side is crucial. The stakes are high, and a conviction can derail your life with hefty fines, probation requirements and even jail time.
With so much on the line, you’ll want to take care in selecting your criminal defense attorney. It’s all too easy to make mistakes during this stressful time that end up costing you in the long run. Let’s walk through some of the most common pitfalls to avoid as you search for the lawyer who will fight for your freedom.
Not Doing Thorough Research
The single biggest error people make is not thoroughly researching potential attorneys before choosing one. With a simple Google search, you can find dozens of lawyers claiming to be experienced criminal defense attorneys. But don’t take websites at face value—you need to dig deeper.
Start by checking whether the lawyer is licensed in New Jersey. Visit the State Bar Association website to verify their standing and check for any disciplinary issues. Then, look the lawyer up on Avvo or other review sites to get client testimonials. If reviews seem suspiciously glowing or you see concerning complaints, keep looking.
You’ll also want to research the lawyer’s background and credentials. Where did they go to law school? How long have they practiced criminal defense in New Jersey? Be sure to ask for specifics on their courtroom experience—have they taken many trials to verdict or settled most cases through plea bargains? Extensive trial experience is a major plus.
Finally, does their focus align with your needs? If you’re facing federal charges, you’ll want someone well-versed in federal law. For DUI or domestic violence cases, seek out a lawyer with specialized expertise fighting those charges.
Not Asking the Right Questions
When you consult with prospective lawyers, come armed with smart questions. You want to get a feel for how they’ll handle your case should you choose to hire them.
Key questions include:
- How much of your practice is devoted to criminal defense?
- What will your involvement be versus other lawyers/staff in your firm?
- What defenses could apply in my case?
- Based on the charges and evidence you know of, what are the likely outcomes?
- What are the retainer and overall fee estimates?
Pay attention to how the lawyer answers you. Do they listen attentively and respond clearly in everyday language? Or do they seem distracted, overpromise or use legal jargon you don’t understand? Go with the straight-shooting, focused attorney.
Also, be upfront about your budget constraints, if any. This will help narrow your choices to lawyers offering payment plans or who take court-appointed cases.
Not Checking References
Any lawyer can say they provide top-notch defense services. You need to hear it directly from past clients to feel confident in your choice.
Before committing, insist on getting client references you can call or email. Ask the lawyer for three past clients with charges similar to yours. Then reach out to ask if they were satisfied overall with services received. You can also read online reviews for candid client feedback.
If a lawyer refuses to provide references or has concerning reviews, cross them off your list. The right attorney won’t hesitate to have you chat with happy former clients.
Ignoring Gut Instincts
There’s one more critical step as you get to know prospective lawyers: listen to your gut. Even if a lawyer checks all the boxes on paper, you may get an uneasy or indifferent feeling interacting with them. Or you may feel an instant rapport and confidence in another candidate the moment you start talking.
That gut check matters. Don’t talk yourself into hiring a lawyer you feel lukewarm towards, even if they look good “on paper.” The criminal defense process requires a relationship built on trust and communication. It’s okay to break things off politely with one lawyer to consult with another who you click with better.
Allowing Price to Drive the Decision
With criminal defense lawyers charging anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000+ in retainers, then billing hourly, the costs add up fast. Still, basing your choice primarily on price is shortsighted.
The reality is you get what you pay for in legal services. The best defense lawyers with the most courtroom savvy and negotiation skills also command the highest fees. If the charges you’re facing could land you in prison or saddle you with a criminal record, can you really put a price tag on your freedom and future?
By all means, seek fee estimates upfront and be clear on payment expectations. But don’t let sticker shock deter you from an attorney who inspires confidence they can win your case. Explore payment plans or borrowing money from family/friends before compromising on representation. Your life is worth investing in.
Waiting Too Long to Hire a Lawyer
The final mistake to avoid is waiting weeks or months after your arrest to begin seeking counsel. In the chaos after charges are filed, it’s tempting to hope things will just go away. But the longer you wait, the harder mounting an effective defense becomes.
Critical evidence could erode over time or disappear altogether. Witnesses’ memories fade, sometimes hurting your credibility. Plus, prosecutors gain leverage to push for the harshest penalties or pile on more charges.
Retaining a lawyer quickly limits these risks. Your attorney can request police reports and other evidence for review, interview witnesses while recollections are fresh, and negotiate with the prosecution before things escalate. This rapid response gives you the best shot at dismissal or acquittal. Don’t jeopardize it by stalling.
Take Your Time Choosing Wisely
Selecting the right criminal defense lawyer amid the stress of pending charges is no easy task. Avoid knee-jerk decisions you’ll regret by following the guidance above:
- Thoroughly research candidate attorneys’ backgrounds
- Ask smart questions at consultations
- Check references to confirm quality service
- Trust your instincts if someone’s not the right fit
- Prioritize expertise over lower fees
- Hire counsel ASAP after charges are filed
Finding the New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who best matches your needs and budget will demand time and diligent effort. But once you have the right legal advocate in your corner, you’ll gain invaluable peace of mind knowing your case is in good hands