Is this a lawyer up situation?
September 19, 2011 7:04 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: Question about sentencing likelihood for a Class B Misdemeanor for marijuana possession in Travis County, Texas. Previous record and details of current arrest inside...YANML

My friend was just arrested for public intoxication (class C misdemeanor) and possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana (class B misdemeanor). Previous record includes a 6 yr old arrest for DWI with possession of cocaine. For the previous offenses, my friend went through an eight month state-funded rehab and three years of probation.

Texas law allows for up to 180 days in jail and up to a fine of $2000 for the possession charge, with automatic license suspension. Given the previous offenses, any ideas on the likely sentence? Any links to statistics of actual cases? Should my friend get a lawyer ASAP? Money is an issue, so we're trying to determine if paying (read: financing) at least $1200 for a lawyer to attempt dismissal is the best option or if he has a good chance of getting probation and something like a $500 fine with a court=appointed lawyer.
posted by argylekneesocks to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Of course your friend should get a lawyer ASAP.

You yourself have said that jail time is a possibility, and that a private attorney is about $1200. How many days in jail is $1200 worth to your friend? Personally, I would pay $1200 bucks to avoid jail for a single day. I'd probably pay $1200 for just a reduced chance at landing in jail for a day. I would absolutely unequivocally pay $1200 for even a marginally better shot to avoid 180 days in jail.

I think the calculus works something like this: Jail really really really sucks. A few thousand dollars is not that much in the grand scheme of life. Thus, spend a few thousand, get lawyer, try to avoid jail.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 7:20 PM on September 19, 2011

court-appointed lawyer = you get whatever you get, whoops, should have ponied up.

i'm with HabeasCorpus - this is not even a close call. 180 days is 6 months, are you kidding me? this is a sell-the-car, call-in-the-favors, run-up-the-credit-card, pull-out-all-the-stops emergency.
posted by facetious at 7:26 PM on September 19, 2011

Best answer: Had a misdemeanor charge in Travis county recently... whatever you do, get YOUR OWN lawyer! I was dragged through the dirt, going through 3 different court-appointed attorneys: 2 didn't show up, and the third decided to put my hearing off another month (this after 4 months of going into court first thing in the morning and getting rescheduled or another attorney).
posted by MuChao at 7:46 PM on September 19, 2011

Best answer: Thankfully, the courts are not all that interested in jailing someone for less than two ounces of weed. Nonetheless, your friend should have their own attorney, as public defenders here can be somewhat of a nasty joke. Find a real lawyer, and your friend will probably get a probated sentence and a stern talking to.
posted by Gilbert at 7:58 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Find the $1200 and use an ambulance chaser.
posted by rhizome at 8:25 PM on September 19, 2011

Nthing the lawyer. Even if he gets probation, it's better than ANY jail time.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 8:37 PM on September 19, 2011

I am not a lawyer (pending bar results). I am neither your lawyer nor your friend's lawyer. This is not legal advice.

I have, however, spent several months working in a DA's office. And I have seen many public defenders who are very good. I have seen many private defense attorneys who are very bad.

The rich white-collar defendants who can afford Brendan Sullivan or John Keker are going to be better off with an expensive hired gun.

But that doesn't mean that the same thing is necessarily true for an indigent defendant facing a misdemeanor possession charge. I worked in a Boston-area court, for example, and would much rather take my chances with someone from CPCS (the local public defender) than with most of the private attorneys.

You need to find someone who has experience with the local criminal courts. There's not a one-size-fits-all answer.
posted by ewiar at 8:38 PM on September 19, 2011

Best answer: Public defender here. I practice in Oregon, I have no idea about Texas law and I'm not your lawyer or your friend's lawyer.

There are several questions implicit in this post. First, does your friend need to talk to a lawyer? Yes. Absolutely. The only time that a lawyer isn't needed, in my experience, is when you have the option of doing some sort of diversion or other program that removes the charge from your record upon completion of an alternative program. The problem? You won't know when that's an option. And even when the court tells you of such options, you won't know whether it's a good option, because you won't have a lawyer to evaluate your case and tell you whether you'd be better off going to trial and beating the charge.

So basically, you always need a lawyer to navigate any criminal issue whatsoever. There's also a side benefit to having a lawyer: Someone to blame, if you get bad advice. There's been mention here of crappy public defenders. I don't doubt it. There's lots of bad lawyers out there, both public defenders and private-sector attorneys. Hopefully you get a good one. But if you don't, that's one extra way you can pursue relief at a later time, through a lawsuit against that lawyer or some sort of post-conviction relief.

Your second question: Should your friend hire a lawyer of his own or go with a public defender? I have no idea what the situation is in your county in Texas. Here, the assessment for a public defender is somewhere between zero and $350. Private attorneys run $3,000 and up for most types of cases. If I were accused of a crime, I would ask for the public defender, have a few meetings with them, and then determine whether I wanted to follow that lawyer's advice or hire my own. So I guess my suggestion is see who you get for a public defender before you spend a few grand on a private attorney, who may not be an improvement anyway. And if you decide to hire your own lawyer after consulting with the public defender, no big deal. Client wants a second opinion? Makes sense to me. I'd want to talk to more than one doctor if I had a big medical issue. Same sort of thing.

Good luck. Hope your friend gets an attorney, whoever it might be.
posted by Happydaz at 9:47 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Totally pay for a lawyer.

It's not the same state or charges, but my brother's public defender told him "six months tops!" and then fucked off for the rest of the trial. Three years later, my brother is in prison for life and my parents are now pulling together 30k to get him the trial he should have had.

However, happydaz has good advice - see who you end up with, and if they seem to be undercompetent or busy or just not giving you what you need, then find and pay for your own lawyer.

Good luck. Hope it all works out ok.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:08 PM on September 19, 2011

Best answer: The "Get a lawyer" page at the MeFi wiki might be useful, especially the last section, "Low or no cost avenues for receiving legal assistance." I've made good use of this part in the past, as have many of my friends:

Many lawyers also offer free first consultations over the phone as a way to bring business to their door, and will spend time going over your situation and options, without charge, to help you decide if you need to hire a lawyer. Ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations and mention those names - and your desire for a free first consult - when you call.
posted by mediareport at 4:07 AM on September 20, 2011

A friend had this happen. Same county. Paid 1500 for a good lawyer. Did 30 hrs of community service, 10 hr drug course, paid another 500 in court fees. Got the whole thing of their record with no other incidents for 1 year. You will have to pay another grand or so a couple years later to get the lawyer to expunge your record completely.
posted by meta87 at 7:20 AM on September 20, 2011

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