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27 Nov 23

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney in New Jersey

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Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 10:58 pm

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney in New Jersey

Background and Experience

First, find out about the lawyer’s background. How long have they practiced criminal law? Do they focus solely on criminal defense or take other types of cases too? Ask if they handle state or federal cases or both. Also, inquire about their trial experience. Have they taken many cases to trial or do they prefer plea bargains? An attorney’s background can determine if they are the right fit.

For example, “How long have you been practicing criminal defense law?” and “What percentage of your caseload focuses on criminal law?” are good starter questions. Look for attorneys with at least 5-10 years focused on criminal defense. Handling a high volume of criminal cases regularly can equate to more experience.

Types of Crimes Handled

Every criminal charge merits unique defenses. So find out the types of crimes the lawyer handles. Do they have experience with cases like yours? Ask if they’ve worked on similar charges to the one you face. For instance, have they defended clients against assault, drug possession, or white collar crime charges? Their specific experience is vital.

Questions to ask include:

  • What types of criminal cases have you handled?
  • Are you experienced in defending cases involving [name the charges you face]?
  • How many cases similar to mine have you taken to trial?

Ideally, you want a lawyer well-versed in cases like yours. Checking their background ensures you hire someone able to mount the best defense.

Success Record

It’s also prudent to inquire about the attorney’s track record. What is their rate of case dismissals, acquittals, or favorable plea bargains? Do they have experience negotiating with local prosecutors? The ideal lawyer knows the local legal landscape inside out.

Ask questions like:

  • What is your case dismissal or acquittal rate?
  • What percentage of your cases end in plea bargains versus trials?
  • What is your success record negotiating with the prosecutor’s office?

While a great track record is no guarantee, it often indicates strong defense skills.

Legal Strategy

Every case calls for a customized legal strategy. So find out how the lawyer plans to defend you. Will they seek case dismissal or take it trial? Do they have experience using certain defenses? Also, ask about their negotiation approach. Knowing the strategy upfront ensures alignment.

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Questions around legal strategy include:

  • Based on the charges I face, what defenses seem viable?
  • If we go to trial, what are some strategies you would use in my defense?
  • How do you generally approach negotiating plea bargains with prosecutors?
  • Do you think we should aim for a case dismissal, plea bargain, or trial? Why?

By outlining their approach early, you can assess if you feel comfortable with their strategy.

Fees

Attorney fees vary widely, so get clear costs upfront. Ask if they charge hourly or flat fees. Request fee estimates for different case milestones. Also, inquire if expenses like expert witnesses fall under the fees or incur additional costs.

On fees, ask several questions:

  • Do you charge hourly fees or a flat rate?
  • Approximately how much do you estimate my legal defense may cost if my case goes to trial?
  • If my case gets dismissed early on, what would my total fees be?
  • What is included in your legal fees versus what expenses or costs are separate?

Getting fee clarity is vital when budgeting for legal defense.

Meeting Logistics

Handling a criminal case takes regular attorney-client meetings. So find out the lawyer’s availability to meet in-person. Where is their office located? Can they visit you in jail if needed? How quickly do they respond to calls or emails? Accessibility matters when facing criminal charges.

Logistics questions include:

  • How soon after I hire you are you available to meet in-person?
  • If I’m in jail during the case, do you visit clients in jail?
  • How quickly can I expect you to respond to calls or emails generally?
  • Is your legal team available nights and weekends if needed?

Finding an attorney available to communicate regularly builds a better attorney-client relationship.

Comfort Level

Most importantly, assess your comfort level with the attorney. Do they listen to your full story without judgement? Are they empathetic to your situation? Do they seem truly invested in your case? Working with a lawyer you trust and feel heard by can help reduce case-related anxiety.

To measure comfort, ask yourself:

  • Did the lawyer make me feel supported, not judged?
  • Do I feel the attorney understands my goals and perspective?
  • Does my gut say this lawyer makes sense for my case?

If you feel at ease with the attorney, you’ll likely communicate more openly and collaborate better.

Referrals

Last, ask for referrals to past clients with similar charges. Speaking directly to former clients offers insights on what it’s like to work with that lawyer. Ask about their availability, legal strategy, rates, and if overall they felt well-represented.

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Don’t hesitate to ask:

  • Can you provide 2-3 referrals to past clients I could speak to?
  • Is it alright for me to ask your former clients about their experience working with you as their defense lawyer?

Speaking to an attorney’s former clients often solidifies – or changes – hiring decisions.

Key Takeaway

Finding the best criminal defense attorney goes beyond just experience or rates alone. You need a lawyer aligned with your case specifics, legal strategy, and communication preferences. Most importantly, ensure you feel comfortable and confident in the attorney’s abilities. Taking time to thoroughly vet potential lawyers can pay dividends towards the best case outcome.

With charges looming, the stakes feel high when hiring a defense lawyer. Keep this checklist of key questions handy when interviewing attorneys for your criminal case. Best of luck with your case