When you show up in court without an attorney it’s not unusual for a judge to set you for trial, especially if you make multiple appearances sans counsel. Judges like to move their docket, and some believe that a trial setting may be what it takes to motivate a defendant to hire a lawyer, or cop a plea with the state.
If you can not afford an attorney, be sure and let the court know early on. Ask for a “Pauper’s Oath” or “Affidavit of Indigency” to apply for court appointed counsel, or the public defender.
The economy sucks, and many of you are underemployed, or unemployed, but you still may not be broke enough to qualify for a public defender. Remember, the government’s broke too, and if the County can find a way to not pay for your attorney, they will. Most defendants prefer a “free world lawyer” to court appointed counsel, but anything is better than representing yourself at trial.
Let me offer a helpful guide to choosing the last minute defense lawyer.
1. Don’t shop for a defense lawyer at the last minute. It’s a horrible idea. You are going to pay more for immediate attention, you are going to be under pressure to choose a lawyer NOW, and not have time to consult with multiple attorneys, and finally, lawyers can rarely do their best work when facing a quick jury trial setting.
No lawyer can accept a new trial setting in the next few weeks without losing out of other business, sacrifcing other clients, and/or working whatever nights and weekends they hoped to have off. That kind of immediate attention creates logistical problems for which your lawyer will expect to be compensated.
To avoid the emergency trial premium start shopping for a lawyer as soon as you think the police are interested in you, or at the very least when you bail out of jail.
2. I can see that you skipped number 1. Now what.? First, you need to figure out how much money you have to spend. Depending on the seriousness of the charge, you are going to need a few thousand for any decent attorney to take a trial setting. Don’t exepct a lawyer to offer a payment plan with a fast approaching trial setting. The reason is two fold.
First, if you don’t pay, they lawyer can rarely withdraw close to trial. Lawyers don’t like trying cases for free. A trial is a huge time commitment for an attorney. Pro bono is a noble idea, but a gratis trial fee will put most lawyers out of business.
Second, defendants rarely pay after trial, and defense lawyers know this. If we win, you’ll be happy, but you may not be back with our fee. If you are found not guilty, you’ll probably blame the lawyer and want a refund, much less want to pay your balance.
So get a number together. When you call attorneys asking them to solve your legal emergency you should be able to tell them the maximum you can spend. A lawyer may work with you to meet that number, but without a real amount you can pay right now, you won’t get anywhere with your interviews/phone calls/email inquiries.
3. Who to call? As many excellent attorneys as you can find. This part is the same as hiring a defense lawyer and has been blogged out so much that I have nothing to add. Here is Mark Bennett’s guide, read it, and follow his instructions.