If you or a loved one has been arrested or is under criminal investigation, you are probably anxious about the consequences, including going to jail or paying monetary fines. Other consequences may include having a criminal record and losing your job or future employment opportunities.
Besides these consequences, you may also be wondering whether you can afford to hire a criminal defense lawyer. Mostly, criminal defense attorneys charge based on a flat fee or an agreed-upon hourly rate. The legal fees may also include other costs related to your defense, including hiring expert witnesses or investigators.
Essentially, defending a criminal charge can be expensive. While the law guarantees you the right to legal representation or you can represent yourself in criminal prosecutions, neither is so straightforward. It is advisable to hire a qualified and experienced defense lawyer to represent you.
Since each criminal case is unique, the overall cost of hiring a criminal defense lawyer varies based on several factors. These factors include the type of offense, the case's complexity, the lawyer's experience, and skills, whether the case goes to trial, an attorney's fee structure, among other factors.
Therefore, before hiring an attorney, it is essential to understand how these factors affect an attorney's overall cost.
With regards to the nature and seriousness of the crime, every criminal case is different. A traffic offense is different from manslaughter. The more serious an offense is, the more time a lawyer will need to investigate, research and eventually defend you in court. Essentially, a serious criminal charge or a felony will cost you more in attorney fees compared to a misdemeanor.
Generally, the probable complexity of a case depends on the type or severity of the offense. Besides carrying greater penalties and requiring more court appearances, felony charges are harder to defend than misdemeanor charges. For instance, a defense attorney may need to hire an expert witness or investigator's services, including a pathologist in a murder case.
On the other hand, it may not be necessary to hire an expert in a straightforward misdemeanor case like a first-time DUI offense. Typically, investigating and defending some cases is more complex and costly; hence a criminal attorney will charge more for such cases.
A criminal attorney's experience and qualifications can have a significant impact on the outcome of a case. The more qualified or experienced the lawyer, the higher the chances of success in a criminal case. Consequently, more experienced and skilled attorneys charge higher fees than their less skilled or qualified colleagues.
Besides general experience or skills as an attorney, an attorney's time as a criminal lawyer also impacts his/her overall attorney fees. Even though experienced attorneys charge higher rates, they may be cheaper in the long run as they can resolve cases quicker and more effectively than less experienced lawyers.
Generally, the cost of handling a case that does not go to trial is relatively lower than for a case that goes to trial. If your case ends at a plea bargain, the attorney will charge you lesser fees, but he/she will charge relatively higher fees if it goes to trial.
While negotiating a plea can take a lot of time and effort, it is not the same as litigating a case that goes to trial. A case that goes to trial will require significant preparations, more court appearances, more in-depth research and investigations, and higher attorney fees.
While some lawyers charge a flat rate, others use an hourly rate to bill their clients. The choice of a lawyer’s fees structure usually depends on several factors, including the complexity of the case and the lawyer's experience or qualifications.
Hourly Billing. In an hourly billing rate, the lawyer charges per hour for the amount of time they will spend on your case. The lawyer may also require a retainer fee. Mostly, lawyers prefer the hourly billing rate, especially if they cannot determine a reasonable flat rate due to the complexity of the case. Typically, you can expect to pay between $100 and $350 an hour for a criminal defense lawyer's services.
Fixed Fee. In a fixed fee or flat billing rate, the lawyer charges a fixed amount for all the work in a case or an agreed portion of the work. Mostly, lawyers use flat-fee billing for predictable criminal cases, such as a first-time DUI offense.
One of the advantages of flat-fee billing is that you are sure about the legal costs. For instance, at Marble, we avoid surprises by giving you an upfront quote of our fee, which we determine using predictive modeling. Flat-fee billing also allows us to provide you with a flexible payment option that accommodates your needs.
Besides the above factors, other factors that influence the cost of hiring a criminal lawyer include geography or location, type of court, criminal history, and potential immigration consequences.
Type of court – Whether a criminal case will be in a local, county, state or federal court may impact the attorney fees. Mostly, this concerns whether your case is a State or a Federal matter.
Geography or location – The same way gasoline is more expensive in some parts of America than in others, hiring an attorney is more expensive in some areas than in others. For instance, a New York criminal defense lawyer with offices in Albany will charge more than their colleague with a small office in Jamestown or Syracuse.
Additionally, criminal policies and procedures may vary between states or locations, making lawyers charge more for certain criminal offenses in some states than in others.
Criminal history and other violations – typically, a previous conviction increases the likelihood of getting harsher punishment. Criminal history may also include your probation record and whether you have any violations. Essentially, a bad criminal or prison history makes an attorney work harder; hence he/she may charge more to defend you in court.
Potential immigration consequences – A criminal defense lawyer may also charge you more if your criminal charges involve violating immigration laws with possible immigration consequences, including deportation.
Since the overall cost of hiring a criminal defense lawyer depends on multiple factors, it is important to understand how the factors affect attorney fees. Whether you are in California or New York, these factors, including an attorney’s preferred fees structure and the respective state’s criminal laws will determine how much a criminal lawyer cost. However, the national average cost of hiring a criminal defense lawyer is $8,000, with a price range of between $1,000 and $15,000 for a single case.
Image: Matt Popovich