10 Things to Know About Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer or a DUI Attorney

We are criminal defense attorneys and DUI lawyers located in Springfield, Illinois and serve clients all over central Illinois.  Frequently we have clients who have never needed the services of an attorney before or who feel that they have been under-served by an attorney they have had in the past.  Hiring an attorney is one of the most important first steps any client makes in defending against charges brought against them, whether the charges are simple traffic violations or more serious felony or DUI charges.  To that end, we’d like to share with you our thoughts about what to look for, and what to expect, when hiring a lawyer to defend you against criminal charges:

  1. You should hire a lawyer you feel comfortable talking with.  Our ability to obtain the result you seek depends on many things, but one of the most important is communication.  If you do not feel that you can openly communicate with us, then it will be much more difficult for us to effectively help you.  We need you to communicate with us about your case: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We need for you to communicate with us about what resolution you want to seek for your case.  We need you to communicate with us about how potential resolutions might affect your employment, education, or home life.  We need you to communicate with us if you believe there is evidence that will help you but that the State has not gathered.  No one knows your case better than you—and we cannot begin to know your case as well as you do unless you tell us everything you know about your case.
  2. We work for the client and not for the person who may be paying the bills.  This is an important point.  We understand that our clients often have family members and friends who help pay their legal fees.  However, it is important for those family members and friends to understand that it is ultimately the client who we are working for, and thus our client calls the shots with regard to how his or her case gets resolved.
  3. We do not work for “the State.”  It is true that any good criminal defense attorney will have a good working relationship with the local prosecutors in their area.  Having that working relationship is often instrumental in obtaining timely, favorable results for our clients.  But we are working for you (our client) and for you alone.  If, after we review your case and discuss it with you, you wish us to try to reach a plea agreement with the prosecution, we will seek to do so.  If you wish instead to fight the case by every legitimate means available, we will do that.
  4. Our communications are confidential and privileged.  Unless you waive your right to have our communications be in confidence, we cannot disclose anything you tell us about your case to anyone else.
  5. We are always on your side.  But always being your side does not mean that we can always give you good news.  If we are telling you something that is hard to hear about your case, it is not because we do not believe in you or your case; it is because we have an obligation to you to make sure that you understand how your case may play out in court, so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.  We do not like delivering bad news any more than our clients like hearing it, but it is sometimes a practical reality of our job.
  6. Prosecutors often send us initial plea bargain offers without us asking for one.  You should not assume that whenever your attorney informs you of the prosecution’s offer, the attorney is recommending you take the offer—unless, of course, we actually tell you that.  We have an obligation to communicate all offers unless you have already indicated to us that you will accept or reject a specific offer (or all offers), or that we have full authority to accept or reject an offer (such as in a minor case in which we can enter a plea on your behalf).  In many cases, a resolution is reached through negotiations over time.  If we think that further negotiation may be fruitful, we will make recommendations to you on how we should proceed—but it will ultimately be your decision whether to negotiate.
  7. Conversely, there are sometimes cases in which prosecutors are unwilling to make any offer, or to agree to anything the defense finds acceptable.  These cases simply have to be fought out in court.  That may mean going to trial, or that may mean entering an “open” plea (a guilty plea without an plea agreement) and having a sentencing hearing in which your lawyer’s job involves presenting mitigating evidence (and countering aggravating evidence) and arguing to the judge for a more appropriate sentence that the prosecution is seeking.  While neither we nor you can ultimately control whether a plea agreement can be reached, no one can ever force you to plead guilty.  If you ultimately choose to go to trial, your lawyer should be equipped and willing to try your case.
  8. In some cases, there are one or more pretrial motions that can and should be filed—and in some of those cases, winning on a pretrial motion (for example, suppressing critical evidence from an illegal stop or search) may result in the case being dismissed by the prosecutor before trial.  But not every case presents a constitution violation or other legal grounds to “beat” the case on motions.  Effective lawyering requires identifying and pursuing issues that may help your case—not throwing reams of paper against a wall and hoping that a few pages somehow stick.
  9. A good lawyer is going to look at you as a whole person and not just another client file to be resolved.  Naturally, our job requires a lot of time spent in court and in meetings—so don’t be surprised if the lawyer you hire isn’t always available when you call the office.  But a good lawyer will make time to return your calls and discuss your case with you.  Good attorneys will also take the time to get to know you and what is important in your life in order to help you find a resolution to your matter that works best for your as an individual.
  10. There are many fine attorneys who practice criminal law—but no one worth listening to is going to guarantee anything other than his/her best efforts.  Do not trust anybody who promises to get you a particular resolution.  In many cases we can give you an idea about what to expect based on prior experience—and sometimes we might even be able to tell you what to expect with a fair amount of detail.  Ultimately, though, our justice system is a human institution, filled with human flaws.  Our role is to defend the accused, protect the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and mitigate against the tendencies of some in our government to over-criminalize and needlessly incarcerate so many people worthy of rehabilitation and a second chance.  That’s a tall order for anyone, and nobody can claim 100% success.  What you’re looking for in a lawyer is 100% effort.
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