Will a Criminal Defense Lawyer Represent Me if My Disposition Was a Felony?
Will a Criminal Defense Lawyer Represent Me if My Disposition Was a Felony?
Getting charged with a felony can be an incredibly stressful and frightening experience. Many people worry that once they have a felony on their record, no lawyer will want to represent them in the future if they face new charges. However, this is generally not the case. Most criminal defense attorneys are willing to take on clients regardless of their criminal history. Here’s what you need to know about finding legal representation after a felony disposition:
Why Criminal Defense Lawyers Will Still Represent You
Defense lawyers understand that having a prior felony does not define who you are as a person. They know that good people sometimes make bad choices or find themselves in unfortunate circumstances. A past mistake does not mean you are automatically guilty of any new charges you face.The criminal justice system is also designed to give every defendant fair legal representation, regardless of criminal record. The 6th Amendment guarantees the right to counsel, meaning public defenders must represent qualifying defendants who cannot afford private attorneys. Most private defense lawyers believe strongly in protecting this fundamental right as well.Additionally, defense attorneys make their living representing people accused of crimes! If they refused to work with anyone who had a record, they would lose a significant portion of clients. While a person’s criminal history is relevant, it does not automatically exclude them from legal representation.
How Criminal History Affects Your Defense Strategy
That said, a skilled defense lawyer will take your past record into account when building the strongest case possible. For example, if you have prior convictions for similar offenses, it may make arguing mistaken identity or false accusations more difficult. The prosecution could use your record to claim you have a pattern or propensity for that crime.Your attorney may advise pleading to a lesser charge to avoid the prosecution using your record against you at trial. Or they may work to get certain aspects of your criminal history excluded from evidence through motions. The lawyer’s role is to control damage from your record and craft the best defense strategy for your specific situation.
Finding Quality Representation May Be More Difficult
Although most defense attorneys will take on clients with felony histories, finding a really good lawyer can be tougher. Lawyers with the most experience and best track records may be selective about which cases they take. Some may turn down clients they deem “too high risk” if a case seems unwinnable.Be prepared that having a record may exclude you from consideration by some top-notch attorneys. You may need to do more research and interviews to find lawyers willing to represent you. Public defenders are an option, but they tend to have extremely high caseloads that limit their time on each case.
Proving Yourself as a Client
Once you’ve found a lawyer to take your case, it becomes important to prove yourself as a client. Be honest and upfront about every aspect of your situation and past record. Follow your lawyer’s advice diligently. Show you are committed to working hard to build the best defense.A felony record means attorneys may start you off under greater scrutiny. Consistently demonstrating responsibility, reliability and trustworthiness as a client can go a long way in building an effective working relationship with your lawyer.
Special Considerations for Repeat Offenders
If you have been convicted of multiple felonies, finding quality representation gets even harder. Many private attorneys may decline to take your case if your record shows a pattern of repeat offenses over many years. At a certain point, defense lawyers may feel there’s little they can do when the prosecution can paint you as a career criminal.For repeat offenders, the options often come down to getting a public defender or attorney with less experience. This puts you at a disadvantage, as the prosecution likely has more seasoned lawyers. Be prepared for the uphill battle you will face. Focus on being the best client possible for whichever lawyer is willing to take you on.
Getting Representation After a Sex Crime Conviction
One scenario where lawyers may be especially hesitant to represent you is if you have a prior conviction for a sex crime. These offenses carry an extremely negative stigma that many in the legal profession want to avoid association with. Even public defenders may ask to be recused from sex crime cases.If you are a registered sex offender facing new charges, you may get turned down by many private attorneys. Look for those who specialize in handling sex crime cases or who have represented registered offenders in the past. Be willing to pay higher legal fees, as you are asking them to take on a case others will not.
Consulting with Lawyers Before Committing New Crimes
Some people with felony records go on to commit further offenses. If you are considering illegal activities, it’s wise to first consult privately with a criminal lawyer. They can advise you on the likely consequences and penalties you will face as a repeat offender. This inside knowledge may cause you to think twice about your plans.At minimum, speaking to an attorney beforehand can help you make more informed choices. You also establish a relationship with a lawyer who is familiar with your situation if you do get arrested again. Planning ahead is smarter than scrambling to find representation after already getting in trouble.
Options When Lawyers Refuse to Represent You
If you have an extensive felony record, you may get turned down by both public defenders and private attorneys. Typically, the judge will keep appointing lawyers until one is willing to take the case. But if you are repeatedly rejected, here are steps you can take:
- Request a court-appointed out-of-county lawyer: The judge may look for attorneys from neighboring counties who don’t know your reputation.
- Request a continuance: This gives more time to find someone willing to represent you.
- Contact bar associations: Ask if they can refer an attorney willing to take your case.
- Consider representing yourself: Not ideal, but lets you navigate the system if no lawyers will represent you.
- Petition to reduce bail: So you can be released while finding an attorney.
- File complaint against rejections: Argue lawyers are violating your right to counsel by refusing you.
The reality is when no one wants to represent you, your options are limited. Doing everything possible to show you will be responsible and cooperative with whichever lawyer takes your case is crucial.
When a Felony Conviction Bars Future Gun Ownership
One long-term consequence of a felony conviction is losing your right to own firearms. Federal law prohibits gun possession by anyone convicted of a felony. Some states also ban gun ownership by felons.So if you get arrested for an offense like being a felon in possession of a firearm, you likely cannot argue you legally owned the gun. Very few defense lawyers would take a case fighting a charge they know is valid under the law.However, an attorney may be able to negotiate dropping the gun charge in a plea deal or have your sentence reduced by arguing mitigating circumstances. But given the prohibition on gun ownership, you have very little defense against the core charge itself.
The Reality of Felony Convictions
The reality of having a felony conviction is that legal representation becomes harder to find and building a defense case becomes more challenging. Unfair as it seems, the criminal justice system views people with felony records less favorably.But while tough, having a past conviction does not eliminate your legal rights. With persistence and effort, most people can still obtain defense counsel. Your lawyer’s skill and dedication to their work can then make a big difference in the outcome.
Finding the Right Lawyer for You
Here are some tips on finding the best criminal defense lawyer possible given your personal history:
- Search state bar association directories for attorneys experienced in cases like yours. Look for lawyers who specialize in certain types of crimes or representing clients with records.
- Ask friends or family for referrals to defense lawyers with good reputations.
- Search lawyer review sites but beware biases in online reviews. Balance positive reviews with checking credentials.
- Interview multiple attorneys by phone or in person. Ask about their experience with cases and clients like you. Be upfront about your history.
- Ask public defenders which private lawyers they would recommend. Their inside knowledge can be helpful.
- Be open-minded about hiring less experienced attorneys. All lawyers have to start somewhere and build their track record.
- Consider lawyers outside your immediate area. A defense attorney in a different town may not know your local reputation.
- Offer to pay higher legal fees to attract skilled lawyers. Unfortunately, money talks in finding top representation.
- Research lawyer disciplinary records and verify bar membership status. Avoid attorneys with red flags.
- Trust your gut. The right lawyer-client relationship is built on good communication and trust.
Questions a Lawyer May Ask About Your Criminal History
When interviewing defense lawyers, come prepared to answer detailed questions about your background truthfully. Lawyers commonly ask:
- What felony offenses have you been convicted of in the past? When were the convictions?
- Did you serve any jail or prison time for past felonies? How long?
- Are you currently on parole or probation? What are the terms?
- Do you have any pending felony charges or open cases?
- Have you violated any parole or probation terms in the past?
- Are there any outstanding warrants for your arrest?
- How many times have you been arrested and charged? For what types of crimes?
- Will any past victims or police officers recognize you or have grudges?
- What was your sentence for your most recent conviction? Did you complete it?
- Are you a registered sex offender? What level?
- Do you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse?
- Do you have any gang affiliations?
- What is your current employment and living situation?
- Can you consistently meet bail, probation, and legal fee obligations?
Being open about your history allows lawyers to build the strongest case for you. But don’t worry about telling them more than they need to know. The lawyer’s job is to focus on defending against your current charges.
Preparing Yourself Before Meeting with Lawyers
To get the best legal representation possible, it also helps to:
- Gather all documents about your criminal record and charges. Being organized saves time.
- Make a timeline of your past convictions, sentences, probation terms, etc. Accuracy is key.
- Get reference letters vouching for your character from employers, landlords, etc. This offset negatives.
- Have proof of current employment or schooling. Show positive steps since your record.
- Be prepared to explain why you are innocent or the circumstances of the new charges.
- Dress neatly and speak respectfully. You want to make a good impression.
- Be on time for appointments and patient in waiting areas. Avoid actions that seem risky.
- Find out if you qualify for a public defender as a backup option.
- Research if any convictions can be expunged or sealed to improve your situation.
- Save up funds to hire the best lawyer possible. Quality representation is worth the cost.
Having a prior felony conviction presents challenges in finding legal representation and building a strong defense case. But through preparation, effort, and persistence, many defendants with felony records can still obtain quality defense counsel.The key is being honest about your history, following your lawyer’s advice, and working diligently to prove yourself as a client. A skilled defense lawyer can still provide an effective defense against new charges. With their representation, positive case outcomes are still very possible.