27 Nov 23

Questions to Ask at Your First Meeting with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey

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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 08:36 pm


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Questions to Ask at Your First Meeting with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey

Getting arrested and charged with a crime in New Jersey can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming experience. Suddenly your freedom, reputation, and future are on the line. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side from the very start.

The first meeting with your potential lawyer is your opportunity to make sure they have the skills and experience to handle your specific case. It’s also a chance to see if your personalities mesh and you feel comfortable placing your trust in this person during such a difficult time.

To help you make the most of that initial consultation, here are some of the key questions you should ask a criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey:

What experience do you have handling cases similar to mine?

One of the most important factors is choosing a lawyer with extensive experience specifically related to the charges you’re facing. For example, if you’ve been charged with a drug crime, you’ll want a lawyer well-versed in New Jersey’s complex drug laws and defenses. Someone who mainly handles white collar cases won’t have the same focused expertise.

Ask how many years they’ve practiced criminal defense in total, as well as how many cases similar to yours they’ve handled. Be sure to get details on their specific experience with your charges, their success record, and any niche specialty areas they have. The more cases just like yours they’ve seen, the better.

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Are you certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a criminal trial attorney?

New Jersey has a certification program for lawyers who meet stringent requirements in terms of experience, education, and demonstrated ability handling criminal cases. Certified Criminal Trial Attorneys have deep knowledge of criminal defense and are tested on their mastery of this highly complex area of law. Not all criminal lawyers in New Jersey have this credential, so it’s worth asking about.

What is your general approach or philosophy when defending clients facing criminal charges?

Every attorney has their own style and strategic approach. Some may be more aggressive and willing to take cases all the way through trial, while others prefer to resolve cases through plea bargains. Some put enormous resources into exhaustive pre-trial preparation, while others adopt a more bare-bones approach.

Listen closely to their response so you understand their mindset and typical game plan when taking on a criminal defense case. Make sure it aligns with your own expectations.

Will you personally handle my case from start to finish?

Some law firms hand off cases between various associates, paralegals, and legal assistants. You want assurance that the lawyer you meet with will oversee and handle your case directly, not pass you down the chain of command.

How quickly do you return calls and emails?

Responsiveness is key when you’re facing criminal charges and need answers or updates on your case. You don’t want to be left hanging for days waiting to hear back. Ask how quickly they typically respond and make sure you’re comfortable with their policy.

Will you keep me informed and explain what’s happening at each stage?

A good lawyer should clearly communicate with you throughout the legal process, explaining your options, the pros/cons of different strategies, and what to expect next. They should listen closely to your needs and desires regarding the outcome and make sure you understand how the case is proceeding.

What will your investigation process look like?

Vigorous investigation is a cornerstone of building an effective criminal defense. Ask what investigative steps they typically take on cases like yours. For example, interviewing witnesses, consulting with expert witnesses, visiting the crime scene, subpoenaing documents, researching case law precedents, etc. Their investigation could uncover evidence or witnesses that bolster your defense.

Will you consider hiring expert witnesses if needed?

In some cases, testimony from an expert witness can be hugely beneficial for the defense. For example, a DNA expert, forensic accountant, psychologist, or use of force expert. Ask if they are willing to retain specialists like these if your case could benefit from expert input.

How often do your cases go to trial versus ending in plea bargains?

Some lawyers take an aggressive stance and are ready to fight all the way to trial. Others tend to encourage plea bargains to avoid the uncertainty of trial. Ask about their general approach so you understand their mindset. Also ask about their success rate at trial.

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If my case goes to trial, will you try my case yourself rather than handing it off?

Insist on a guarantee that the lawyer you meet with will be the one handling your trial. You don’t want an associate with less experience standing up in court on your most critical day.

Are you willing to take my case to trial if necessary?

Some lawyers only want to take cases they can plea bargain and avoid trial. If you feel strongly about fighting your charges at trial, make sure to ask if they are willing to go the distance and not pressure you to take a plea deal.

How often do your cases get dismissed before trial?

Some lawyers have great success getting charges dropped by effectively arguing to expose holes in the prosecutor’s case. If dismissal is your goal, ask about their typical dismissal rates for cases like yours.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case based on what you know so far?

Their initial case assessment will give you insight into how much fight is left in your case and if early dismissal is possible. Be frank in discussing the facts so they can give you an honest appraisal.

What possible penalties am I facing if convicted?

Have an open talk about potential penalties so you understand the stakes and how aggressively you want to fight the charges. Get details on the minimum and maximum jail time, fines, probation, license suspension and other possible consequences.

What options do I have for reducing charges or penalties through plea bargaining?

Many cases do end with plea bargains. Ask what deals they could potentially negotiate with the prosecutor to get charges reduced or penalties minimized. They should be able to give you examples based on their experience.

Will you help me explore pre-trial diversion or intervention programs?

These programs can lead to charges being dismissed after completing classes, community service, rehab, restitution or other conditions. A knowledgeable lawyer will advise if programs like this are an option in your case.

How do you charge for your services – flat fee or hourly? What payments are expected upfront?

The fee structure varies between lawyers and firms. Some charge flat fees while others bill by the hour. Talk through the payment expectations and options to understand the total costs. Be wary of demands for large upfront retainers.

Can you provide references from past clients I can contact?

Speaking with a lawyer’s former clients can provide valuable insight into their skills, responsiveness, and professionalism. Ask for several references so you can get candid feedback.

Do you have malpractice insurance?

Every lawyer should carry malpractice insurance to compensate clients if mistakes are made that negatively impact their case. Ask to ensure they have adequate coverage.

Is my case the type you truly feel passionate about and enjoy handling the most?

You want a lawyer who gets fired up about the type of case you have and will vigorously defend you. Make sure your case aligns with their areas of interest and expertise so they’ll be fully engaged.

How can I get in touch with you if I have urgent questions or need updates?

Get clarity on the best ways to reach them, both during normal business hours and after hours in an emergency. Make sure you’ll have reliable access on their cell phone or an after hours line.

What are the next steps if I decide to hire you?

Ask what they will need from you to get started, like a retainer payment, signing a fee agreement, providing documents, etc. You’ll want to hit the ground running so discuss the immediate next steps.

Will you fight my case aggressively while also treating me with compassion and respect?

Make sure to get a sense that they will zealously fight your charges while also showing empathy and understanding of the toll this takes on you emotionally. You need a lawyer in your corner who will be both relentless and reassuring.

Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make after being arrested or charged. Don’t leave anything to chance during that introductory meeting. Asking the right questions will help ensure you make the best choice for your needs and give your case the strongest chance for the best possible outcome.