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27 Nov 23

The Cost of Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey

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

The Cost of Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey

Retainer Fees

Most criminal defense lawyers in New Jersey do not work on an hourly basis. Instead, they charge a flat retainer fee upfront when you hire them. This retainer fee is supposed to cover all the basic legal services they will provide over the course of your case. Expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 or more in retainer fees depending on the severity of the charges and the experience level of the attorney. Simple misdemeanor cases often have retainers in the $1,000 to $5,000 range. More serious felony cases typically start at $10,000 to $25,000+ in retainers. High profile cases with very experienced lawyers can run into the six figures.

The specific retainer fee your lawyer will quote depends on factors like:

  • The severity of the charges (misdemeanor vs felony)
  • Your criminal history and likelihood of getting alternate resolutions like diversion or probation before judgement
  • How much legal work they estimate will be required (motions, hearings, trial, etc.)
  • Their experience level and reputation

It’s important to understand that the retainer fee is not the total cost. It is more like a deposit to get the legal process started. If the retainer runs out over the course of the case, you will owe additional fees.

Additional Legal Fees

In more complex and serious criminal cases that go to trial or involve filing lots of motions, you should expect to pay fees above and beyond the original retainer. Ongoing legal services are typically billed on an hourly basis at rates from $150 to $500+ per hour depending on experience level of the lawyer and staff working on your case.

Trials often rack up tens of thousands in additional legal fees. But even simpler plea agreement negotiations and court appearances can quickly eat through a basic retainer. It’s not uncommon for total legal bills to run $5,000+ in misdemeanor cases and $15,000+ in more complex felonies.

The best way to get accurate estimates on potential total costs is to ask detailed questions upfront when you consult with attorneys. Get quotes not just for their retainer fee but also their hourly rates and cost estimates for different stages – plea negotiations, motions, evidentiary hearings, trials, appeals, etc. Most lawyers are happy to provide these breakdowns so you can budget appropriately.

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Additional Costs to Expect

On top of attorney fees, there are additional costs you may need to pay out of pocket over the course of a criminal case:

  • Expert Witnesses – If subject matter experts are needed to evaluate evidence or testify in support of your defense, you will need to pay their fees. These can run $200+/hour.
  • Investigators – If additional investigation work needs to be done to locate witnesses, gather evidence, etc. you may need to hire a private investigator which can cost $50+/hour.
  • Transcripts – Getting transcripts of hearings or the trial itself to use in motions and appeals will cost you per page fees.
  • Fines & Court Fees – If you take a plea deal or are found guilty, criminal fines, court fees, and restitution may be imposed. These vary widely but can sometimes be negotiated down by skilled lawyers.
  • Travel – If your lawyer needs to travel to interview witnesses, attend hearings, inspect evidence in other locations, you may be on the hook for mileage, flights, hotels, meals, etc.

The unpredictability of the additional fees is why flat fee retainers are common for simpler cases. But it’s important to still understand your total potential costs exposure with more complex cases.

Average Cost by Case Type

As a very rough guideline for budgeting purposes, here are typical average ranges of TOTAL attorney fees for different categories of criminal cases:

  • Misdemeanors (DUI, petty theft, simple assault) – $1,500 to $7,500+
  • 3rd & 4th Degree Felonies (drug possession, low level frauds) – $5,000 to $15,000+
  • 2nd Degree Felonies (manslaughter, robbery) – $15,000 to $50,000+
  • 1st Degree Felonies (murder, aggravated assault) – $25,000 to $250,000+

But there is incredible variation within all those ranges based on the unique complexities of each case. The best way to get accurate estimates is consulting with lawyers directly after they review the details of your charges and situation.

Getting Financial Help

Coming up with enough money to pay legal fees along with normal living expenses can be very difficult for many folks facing criminal prosecution. If you are struggling, here are some options to explore:

  • Payment Plans – Many lawyers are open to creative payment plans that break costs into more manageable monthly installments.
  • Borrowing from Friends & Family – Getting an interest-free loan to pay legal costs from people close to you may be an option.
  • Legal Defense Funds – Crowdfunding donations through GoFundMe campaigns is growing more common.
  • Public Defenders – If you truly cannot afford a lawyer, you can apply to get a free public defender appointed by the court. Keep in mind they handle many cases and have less time for personal attention.
  • Pro Bono Assistance – Various legal aid societies and bar associations have pro bono programs that provide free and reduced costs services for people in need.
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The costs associated with building an effective legal defense team can seem daunting. But skilled criminal defense lawyers have the experience and resources to negotiate charges down to less serious offenses, secure dismissals, and win trials. This can help you avoid huge fines, incarceration, and collateral consequences that massively impact your life and finances down the road. So investing in experienced representation is almost always wise, even if it requires some financial sacrifices in the short term