I take a few minutes each week to answer questions on AVVO. AVVO is an attorney review website that also allows the public to post questions for lawyers to answer. Back in pre AVVO days I had a regular feature alled “You search I answer” in which I would answer questions posed in Google searches. I have to admit AVVO is much more efficient, cutting out the Google middleman.
I can appreciate the public’s desire for free answers to their criminal defense questions. Unfortunately, many criminal defense problems can’t be solved within the limitations of AVVO. Ergo, one of my most common responses is “You need to hire experienced local counsel immediately”.
Here are some common questions that I answer, without really answering-
“I’ve been charged with X, what kind of sentence will I get?”
Let’s see. Without knowing the facts, court, prosecutor, legal issues, or your criminal history you want me to guess the outcome of a case based upon the charge? Really?
If I was that good I’d guess lottery numbers, not criminal case outcomes. A lawyer can’t, and shouldn’t guesstimate plea offers without a working knowledge of the facts, the legal issues, and the court/prosecutor.
I could quote the range of punishment and state that “You could get anything from the maximum sentence to a dismissal”, such a large margin of error ensures 100% accuracy, but doesn’t help defendants.
“I’ve been charged with DWI and offered ____. The facts of my case are as follows…. Should I take the state’s plea offer?”
You should NEVER discuss the facts of your case on a public message board. It’s a horrible (non privileged) idea. Prosecutors already search social networking sites for dirt. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that your AVVO post could and would be used against you. Tread carefully online.
The frequency of “Should I take this deal” questions leads to me to believe that attorney/client communication is an area the defense bar needs to improve on. It may be that defendant’s want a simple second opinion. Unfortunately there are no simple second opinions in criminal law.
What’s the solution?
First, I don’t want to overstate the problem. Many AVVO questions are answered with clear guidance for defendants. For example; questions on whether probation is possible in a certain case, or what the range of punishment is, or what the 5th Amendment means are frequently met with skilled responses.
What most AVVO questioners need is a free consultation; something that 99% of defense lawyers offer. The opportunity cost of a sit down interview with an attorney is much higher than posting a quick question online, but it’s absolutely necessary for proper legal advice.