Someone I love needs a lawyer.
July 30, 2008 4:38 PM   Subscribe

How would you go about finding the best criminal defense attorney in your state?
posted by bricoleur to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Contact several prominent attorneys not practicing criminal defense in the city where you need counsel, and ask the attorneys, "Who would you hire to represent you if you were indicted for a serious crime?"

Their answers will comprise a list of the best criminal defense attorneys.
posted by jayder at 4:55 PM on July 30, 2008 [6 favorites]

It kind of depends... You want to find one that is well-versed in the type of law that your loved one is involved with (DUI, violent crime, etc)
Google Search for "Find an Attorney"

Unfortunately, there isn't a verifiable way to find success rates with lawyers because "success" might mean a couple of different things, whether it be acquittal, reduced sentencing, etc.

Having somebody you care for get in legal trouble can be hard. I wish you the best.
posted by jeffrygardner at 5:02 PM on July 30, 2008

Er, ignore what I just posted. Jayder's answer is better.
posted by jeffrygardner at 5:03 PM on July 30, 2008

Ask a lawyer. (If you post your state, some MeFi lawyers may be able to give you a recommendation.)

If you don't know any, your state Bar Association or possibly a local law school legal clinic may be able to point you in the right direction.

A caution though: "best" is subjective, and frequently is associated with "most high-profile" or "most expensive," which may not necessarily meet your needs. I personally would find someone with substantial experience in the area of criminal law your loved one has allegedly run afoul of, and someone who can work within your budget: a criminal defense can easily run well into the tens of thousands of dollars, and likely more if appeals are involved. Someone local, who is familiar with the courts, judges, prosecutors, jails, etc. in the area (and who won't have exorbitant travel bills) is probably preferable as well.

Also, there's no such thing as a slam-dunk case. Be wary of a lawyer who purports to guarantee you a particular result.
posted by AV at 5:09 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: State: Iowa. Recommendations would be most gratefully received.

Thanks for the good advice so far.
posted by bricoleur at 5:22 PM on July 30, 2008

Use the Martindale-Hubbell directory. It'll give you pertinent info on the criminal attys in your state, as well as a peer rating. The attys with "AV" ratings are the best.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 5:45 PM on July 30, 2008

Best answer: If the charge is a minor one, and if the defendant has no prior criminal history, the quality of the attorney you hire is somewhat less important than in more serious cases. In the case of minor crimes and no prior record, you can hire someone who has only been practicing criminal defense for a couple of years, and feel pretty comfortable that they will get a good result.

If the crime is serious --- a felony, or a crime in which the defendant is facing likely incarceration of more than a few days --- then the experience of the attorney you hire becomes much more important. When I say, "facing likely incarceration," I don't mean "the offense carries up to eleven months and twenty-nine days." There are a lot of offenses for which there is significant jail time allowed under the sentencing statute, but hardly anyone except hardcore recidivists get any jail time at all for that offense. (For example, a first-time offender charged with misdemeanor theft in my city never gets jail time if they plead guilty. It is unheard of. And it is almost always expunged for first-time offenders even if they plead guilty. Any attorney, from the least competent to the best, will get you the same deal.) What I mean by "facing likely incarceration" is that the loved one is almost certainly going to get significant jail time because of the grade of the offense (various criminal homicides, child molestation, child pornography, robbery, etc.).

The value of the best attorneys is not just their knowledge base, but the reputation they have with prosecutors and their knowledge of the nuances of the local legal system. They will know precisely how to negotiate with the prosecutor handling your loved one's case. They will have relationships going back fifteen or twenty years with the high-level prosecutors in that office. They will know how to ferret out the weak points in the state's case, prior to trial, and use those weak points as leverage. They will know the preferences and idiosyncrasies of the judge who is presiding over the case. Because of their demonstrated ability to try cases and win trials, the state will be more willing to negotiate and make a deal that will reduce your loved one's exposure to incarceration. They will have investigators and paralegals on staff to prepare the case fully, rather than the shoestring staffs that many less experienced attorneys have. Keep in mind, far less than one percent of criminal cases go to trial --- the vast majority are resolved by plea agreement or nolle prosequi (the prosecution's declaration that it is dropping the prosecution) --- so getting an attorney who can negotiate the best possible deal is a must.

I have no idea what your loved one is charged with. If your loved one has never been in the criminal system before, he or she may feel like they are in much more trouble than they're really in. If it is a misdemeanor, and the person has little record, you can probably find someone affordable who can do a fine job. If it's something a lot more serious, it is worth mortgaging your house, selling your cars, etc., to get a top-notch attorney.
posted by jayder at 5:46 PM on July 30, 2008 [5 favorites]

This may be too late but I recommend the following two videos regarding self-incrimination.
From a defense attorney and from a detective seeking conviction. As a suggestion for behavior before you engage counsel.
posted by ptm at 4:24 AM on July 31, 2008

Criminal law is not monolithic and a DUI/DWI defense attorney is not going to provide the best defense in a murder or drug case and vice versa. DUI is particularly technical and scientific, and the best attorneys for those kinds of charges specialize in the science behind DUI/DWI, know a lot of specific caselaw (about proper and improper stops, proper and improper questioning, detention, coercion, etc.), and know how to use it in the courtroom. Same goes for other crimes.

The DUI/DWI defenders have a National College, (Iowa attorneys) which board certifies its attorneys.
posted by zpousman at 6:05 AM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the help, it's exactly what we needed. A particular thanks to you, jayder, for taking the time to write that second post. It gives us hope for an outcome that doesn't involve lengthy incarceration.
posted by bricoleur at 6:13 AM on July 31, 2008

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