Q: Do I need a lawyer?
A: If you have been charged with a crime or a serious traffic offense, it is very likely that you do need a lawyer. An aggressive defense attorney will protect your rights and your freedom. He or she will have a clear understanding of the criminal justice system that a person accused of a crime will not posses. While it is true that in a small number of minor cases charges are dismissed without a defense attorney's participation, this is rare. If you go to court without a lawyer, the judge is likely to continue your case and order you to return with a lawyer, or worse yet, make an accused proceed with a public defender that will only have met you that day and who will have to divide his time amongst many other defendants.
Q: What should I look for in a criminal defense attorney?
A: Look for an attorney who has a great deal of experience in criminal law. Find out how many bench trials and jury trials he has litigated in the past few months. Ask if he has defended the type of charge you face. How many times? Ask him to outline possible defenses. Steven R. Hunter is a criminal law specialist who practices in criminal court 99% of the time and goes to trial frequently. Just as you would not go to a dermatologist for help with a heart problem, you should not go to a real estate or personal injury attorney for a criminal case.
Q: How much should I expect to pay?
A: The Law Office of Steven R. Hunter offers both a flat fee and an hourly rate of $300.00 per hour in most cases. The size of the fee depends on the complexity of the case. However, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself how many hours you want the attorney to work on the case, and multiply it by his hourly rate.
Q: What types of things should I expect my lawyer to do?
A: An aggressive defense attorney will interview the client in his office or at the jail. He should interview all relevant witnesses personally or through an investigator. He will examine the crime scene, obtain a court order to examine all physical evidence held by the police, subpoena all relevant police reports, make a motion for discovery, conduct all necessary legal research, write and litigate all relevant pre-trial motions, such as motions to suppress evidence based on constitutional rights violations, try the case to a judge or jury, and if necessary present mitigation evidence and sentencing arguments.
Q: How do I know my lawyer will do what he says he will do for the fee he agrees to accept?
A: You have every right to expect a written legal services agreement. That agreement should spell out how much the lawyer will be paid, whether it is a flat fee or an hourly rate, and what services the lawyer will provide. While the Justice System sometimes demands an attorney to act immediately, without time to have all parties sign a written agreement, if a case is going to trial, there should be plenty of time to reach a written agreement.
Q: I lost my next court date. How do I find out when I go to court next?
A: You can find out your next court date by calling the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court and asking them. You should call the courthouse where your case is pending, and have your name, the name your case is under if it is an alias or different name, your date of birth, the year of your arrest, and the charges.
Q: I used all of my money to post as bond. Can I use that money to pay a lawyer?
A: In Cook County, you may assign your lawyer the bond refund by signing a form called a Cash Bond Refund to Attorney Petition, often abbreviated as a CBR. If the bond exceeds what you have posted, the attorney should be able to return the unearned balance to you.
Q: I am unhappy with my current lawyer. Can I switch to another attorney? What if I already signed the CBR?
A: You have the right to the attorney of your choice. If you wish to change attorneys, you must obtain the approval of the judge, but that is usually no problem if it is done well in advance of trial and does not delay the case. Even if you signed the CBR for one attorney, if he has not earned the money or has not done the work he promised, you are entitled assign the bond money to another attorney.