So you or a loved one is in a position you never thought you would need: you need to find a Michigan criminal defense attorney and you need to do it quickly. Here are some of the top mistakes we see clients make when hiring a criminal defense attorney in Michigan.
1) Hiring your uncle’s business attorney.
I’m sure that Uncle Frank’s business attorney is a nice guy. He has probably even “handled” a “bunch” of cases like yours. He probably drives a nice car and has a fancy office. That should mean he’s a good attorney, right? He probably is when it comes to business matters. The problem with hiring a business attorney to handle your criminal case is that criminal defense is not his expertise. Much like you wouldn’t hire a family doctor to do heart surgery, you shouldn’t hire a business attorney to keep you out of jail. The same goes for your divorce lawyer, bankruptcy lawyer, etc . . .
2) Hiring an attorney who makes promises about the outcome.
Some lawyer might tell you that he’s sure your case won’t be charged, he’s sure that your case will be dismissed, or he’s sure you’ll win. If this happens, run (don’t walk) away. On one occasion, we were hired to replace a Grand Rapids criminal defense attorney who told our client he wouldn’t be charged, then that the case would be dismissed, then that the prosecutor wouldn’t ever actually try the case. On the night before trial, that same attorney tried to pressure our client to plead guilty to a 15 year felony that would require sex offender registration. Luckily, we were able to get an adjournment and ultimately win the trial. Bottom line: lawyers do not have crystal balls and all criminal allegations are serious.
3) Hiring the least expensive attorney.
I’m sure there are times where the least expensive attorney is the best fit for you. However, you probably shouldn’t hire an attorney just because he is the least expensive. If some firm offers to handle your drunk driving case for a flat fee of $1,000.00, I would suspect that they aren’t planning to do a whole lot of work on the case. I know exactly how much time I can afford to put into a case for $1,000. I also know that isn’t enough time to do anything other than plead you guilty.
Nobody likes to admit this, but practicing law is a business just like many others. An attorney can’t constantly provide services below cost any more than a car dealer could sell all of his cars for less than he paid. If the attorney you’re considering hiring isn’t smart enough to figure this out, then you probably don’t want him handling your case. If he is smart enough to figure this out, but isn’t being honest with you about the amount of work it would take to effectively handle your case, you should find a different attorney.
4) Not asking any questions.
If you’re hiring an attorney who could alter the course of your life, you should ask questions. Lots of them. Don’t be afraid of offending the attorney. When I first started practicing law, I was struck by how few people asked about my experience. It is uncommon that people ask how many jury trials I’ve run. It’s very rare that I’m asked what sort of continuing education I have done. Nobody asks about whether I’m on any association or training organization boards. While these things probably don’t make or break the lawyer, I think someone who is more engaged in the practice of criminal defense probably tends to be better at it than someone who isn’t.
5) Hiring an attorney who is “friends” with the prosecutor or judge.
Bottom line: great outcomes are had when your attorney works the case up thoroughly. Deals aren’t had because your attorney golfs with the prosecutor or judge. And I’m not just saying this because I hate golf.
If you believed that being friends with the prosecutor would get you a better deal, why wouldn’t you also believe that the prosecutor being friends with your attorney would get him to pressure you to take a worse deal to help the prosecutor close another case?
Hire an attorney with the right skills, not one who claims that he can get you a “deal” because he’s good friends with the prosecutor.
6) Hiring a lawyer who advertises that he’s a “former prosecutor”.
Look, being a prosecutor can teach you some great skills. It can be a great way to gain trial experience in a short period of time. Some of the best criminal defense attorneys in Michigan started out as prosecutors. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hire a former prosecutor. I’m saying, be careful around criminal defense lawyers who push the fact that they’re former prosecutors as though they’re privy to some secret information that nobody else knows.
7) Hiring a lawyer who wants to go with you to talk to the police.
I would say that in 99.5% of the cases, you shouldn’t be submitting to police questioning with or without an attorney. I’ve never taken a client in for a police interrogation. In one murder case, we provided a carefully crafted written statement to the prosecutor, but that case fit into my 0.05% of cases and we didn’t allow police questioning, we just provided a written statement to answer a particular question.
While there might be some very unusual situation where talking to the police might be needed, it is so uncommon in our practice that I view with great skepticism an attorney who wants to take his client in for questioning.
8) Hiring a lawyer who believes that the police report is the whole truth.
The police report does not and cannot contain the whole truth. Police officers are humans, so they make mistakes. They also are generally aligned with the prosecution. You wouldn’t be accused of a crime, if the prosecutor didn’t think you did something wrong. As a result, a normal confirmation bias, causes most police reports to be skewed against you. If your attorney isn’t willing to question the police report and do his own homework, look for a new criminal defense lawyer.
9) Hiring an attorney you don’t feel comfortable with.
Attorneys are required by law to behave ethically. The vast majority live up to that standard. However, like anything, there are always a few bad apples. If you don’t feel comfortable with an attorney, don’t hire him.
If the guy acts like this guy, you might want to look for a new lawyer. After all, you want a criminal defense lawyer, not a criminal lawyer, right?
10) Hiring an attorney that isn’t accessible.
If you’ve been accused of something that could land you in prison for years or decades, you ought to be able to reach your attorney when you have urgent issues. We frequently hear new clients complain that they couldn’t reach their old criminal defense attorney. In some cases that means that they couldn’t reach them quickly. In other cases, that means that they just never got return phone calls and couldn’t schedule office meetings.
We make ourselves available to clients most any time. We would prefer if you didn’t call at 3:00am to discuss a typo in the police report, but if there’s an emergency, we’re available and you’ll have our cell phone numbers.