If you are looking to hire a criminal lawyer, chances are that you are in a difficult situation and are needing the assistance of a criminal defense attorney quickly. Facing criminal charges, whether minor or a more severe charges, is often a very serious matter with consequences. These may include jail time, creation of a criminal record, monetary fines, loss of future employment opportunities, or more. Therefore, it is often in your best interests to find and hire an experienced and well qualified criminal defense attorney to assist you with your charges. 

Importantly, the Constitution guarantees you the right to counsel in criminal prosecutions. If you cannot afford an attorney, then the court will appoint one for you. However, if the court decides based on your income and assets that you can afford an attorney, then you may either hire a private attorney or represent yourself

Criminal defense attorney costs will typically vary based upon various factors. These may include: the severity of the charges that you are facing, the notoriety or experience of the attorney, the complexity of the legal issues in the case, and whether the case goes to trial, to name a few. Thus, it is important when hiring a criminal defense attorney to discuss the attorney’s fees prior to entering into a written contract.  

What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

If there is a criminal claim brought against you, you may be faced with criminal penalties, such as fines, jail time, or both. Thus, if you have been charged or are under arrest for suspicion of having committed a crime, it is in your best interests to first consult an experienced attorney before you respond to any criminal prosecution. 

A qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney will guide you through the entirety of the criminal legal process and help you assert any possible criminal defenses to the charges being brought against you. 

In most cases where you are seeking a criminal defense attorney, you may have already been arrested, taken into police custody, and booked through the police system. After this, you are typically given a chance to post bail, before an arraignment is held where you are read the criminal charges that are being brought against you. During the arraignment, you will be asked to enter your plea, and should there be no plea bargain, a preliminary hearing will be held where a judge will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge you with a crime. 

As can be seen, the entire criminal procedure is often very complex, and, thus, it is often in your best interest to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will often charge you based on an agreed upon hourly fee or flat fee, as well as bill you any related court costs for defending your case, such as expert witness or investigator fees. 

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?

As noted above, the costs of criminal defense lawyers vary, as no criminal case is identical to another. There are several factors that can affect the overall costs of a criminal case, including:

  • Defendant’s Income: Your income determines whether you are eligible for a court-appointed attorney, or whether you need to hire your own attorney. Each jurisdiction may have different qualifications to determine if someone can afford to hire their own attorney. If an individual qualifies based on their income, then the court will appoint a public defender paid for by the government, as guaranteed by the Constitution;
  • Investigation and Experts: As mentioned above, many criminal cases have complex issues that can require investigators and/or expert witnesses. 
    • For example, a defense attorney might hire an expert in chemical testing to contest or explain the results of a BAC analysis in a DUI trial, or a psychologist if the defendant wants to claim the defense of legal insanity. Investigators and experts require on average a retainer of $2,000 and can charge over $300/hr. Thus, based on the particular circumstances of your criminal charges, there may be extra fees needed to form a stronger defense; or 
  • Attorney’s Fees: As mentioned above, criminal defense attorneys do not all cost a fixed amount of money. Attorney’s fees will vary according to several factors. Some of the more important factors affecting an attorney’s rate include: 
    • The skill of the attorney; 
    • The experience of the attorney; 
    • The seriousness of the offense;
    • The complexity of the legal issues in the case; 
    • The amount of time spent by the attorney in the criminal discovery process;
    • The delegation of tasks to law clerks or paralegals;
    • Whether the case goes to trial; and 
    • Whether the attorney charges a flat fee or by the hour.

Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Charge a Flat Fee?

Although rare due to the fact that no criminal case is identical to another, some attorneys may choose to charge a flat fee for certain criminal cases. For example, an attorney may charge a flat fee, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, to represent you for a simple misdemeanor charge. 

Another example where a flat fee is commonly used by an attorney is in speeding ticket cases, where an attorney may have a set fee for representing clients that have a simple moving violation. However, it is important to note that flat fee arrangements do not come with a guarantee of a favorable outcome or your money back. 

Further, many attorneys will not agree to a flat fee arrangement, due to the varying nature of the criminal process. An attorney may also have a clause in a flat fee arrangement that allows them to increase the flat fee, should the case proceed to trial. 

Why Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Charge an Hourly Fee?

Hourly fees are by far the most common type of fee arrangement utilized by criminal defense attorneys. As discussed above, attorneys often feel that flat fee arrangements are not a dependable way of measuring the various factors and costs associated with representing a client facing criminal charges. Thus, accomplished and well-known attorneys often choose to charge clients by the hour instead of according to a flat rate. 

Hourly billing rates will vary greatly, depending on the relative ability of the lawyer and your personal case circumstances. Typically, you can expect to pay $150 to $700 an hour for a criminal defense lawyer’s time. With an hourly fee structure, it is not uncommon for legal bills to get into the $10,000 to $15,000 range quickly. 

A lawyer who works on an hourly rate may also require the payment of a retainer fee. A retainer may cover a certain amount of that lawyer’s time. After the retainer is expended, either the hourly rate will kick in, or the attorney will have you refresh the retainer and bill their hourly rate against it.

Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer or Represent Myself?

Even if you wish to plead guilty or represent yourself “pro se,” it is extremely important to first consult an experienced attorney before you respond to any criminal prosecution. At a minimum, a criminal defense attorney will ensure that the charges brought against you are appropriate, given the facts of the case and advocate on your behalf to receive the lowest possible penalty. 

The criminal procedure process is a complex matter, and the nuances of the differences of criminal charges are even more complex. For example, suppose that a person is caught leaving a jewelry store with a $100 necklace. The shop owner, furious over the incident, tells the police it was a $1,000 necklace. 

The difference between the values is the difference between petty theft, which carries a misdemeanor charge, and grand theft which carries a felony charge. While a person has the right to proceed in their own defense, even experienced criminal lawyers will admit to not wanting to defend themselves. 

So Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

If you have been charged or arrested under suspicion of committing a crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. A well-qualified criminal defense attorney will be able to help you assert any available defense to the charges brought against you, defend you in court, and guide you through the entire criminal process. 

It is especially important to consult with an attorney if you are facing trial, and in some cases a court appointed attorney, known as a public defender, may be provided to assist you.