Part 1: Introduction to felony representation and considerations when hiring a lawyer if you are accused, charged or arrested for a felony (or any other criminal matter).
Part 3: We explain the terminology and proceedings associated with the criminal process to better inform the public of this process and their rights. Our publications are based upon more than 40 years of experience handling criminal matters in every Metro-Detroit court (Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and St. Clair Counties).
Felony Representation Introduction
Our attorneys have handled OVER 10,000 criminal cases since 1980. Many of those cases qualified as felony offenses. Without a doubt, we know that being accused or charged with a felony can be a life changing event.
The Difference Between Misdemeanors and Felonies
In Michigan, and according to federal law, a felony is considered a crime of high seriousness punishable by imprisonment in excess of one (1) year up to life in prison. If punishable by exactly one year or less, it is classified as a misdemeanor. However, Michigan laws contain certain offenses which are known as “high court misdemeanors” that can carry up to two (2) years imprisonment. While a high court misdemeanor looks better than a felony, it is treated as a felony under federal law and has felony implications under state law.
Clients Charged with Felonies Rarely Fit the Profile of a “Felon” or Criminal
Misunderstandings, false accusations and unintended conduct can lead to serious felony charges. In addition, ignorance of law is not a defense in a criminal prosecution. For example, we have represented clients charged with felonies in all of the following scenarios:
- Malicious Destruction: Key scratching a car where the victim alleges $1,000.00 or more in damage
- Felony Drug Possession: Being in possession of drug residue or an innocent passenger in a vehicle where drugs are found.
- Maintaining a Drug House: When drugs are found in your home or property that you long forgot about or that someone else left behind.
- Uttering & Publishing: Preparing a check that does not belong to you even though the amount involved is nominal.
- Receiving Stolen Property: Being an innocent stolen property.
- Assault with a Deadly Weapon: Raising an object during an argument (assault with a deadly weapon)
- Possession of Child Porn: Accidental or intentional downloading of inappropriate images (child port)
- CSC 4th Degree: Touching someone who claims it was a sexual contact even though not intended to be (CSC 4th Degree)
- Drunk Driving Felony: Being charged with Felony DUI because of 2 or more prior offenses that occurred in your lifetime, even 30 years ago
- Fleeing and Eluding: Failing to stop when signaled by a police officer to do so.
- Resisting and Obstructing: Resisting a lawful arrest or failing to comply with a demand by a law enforcement officer.
- Strangulation: Engaging in a struggle with another and doing an act that “impedes normal breathing” can constitute a felony known as “Assault by Strangulation” punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Any felony offense is a serious matter. However, most of our clients finding themselves charged with a felony do not fit the profile of a criminal and have not engaged in extreme or outrageous conduct. In fact, in our publication which covers the topic of Michigan’s most frequently charged felonies, we explain that marginal conduct, such as being in possession of drug residue which not capable of being used or measured, can result in serious felony charges that can lead to a conviction! If you find yourself in this predicament, do not waste time thinking that you can handle it yourself. Saying the wrong thing to a detective may put you in a worse position without you even knowing that you did so. Fortunately, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can manage most of the above mentioned matters where a felony does not go on your record, jail is not imposed and in some cases get the charge dismissed under special provisions of Michigan law (HYTA for youthful offenders age 17-23, MCL 333.7411 for first time possession of drugs, MCL 771.1 delayed sentence). Deals under these provisions can be limited based upon the age of the offender and/or the past criminal history of the offender. However, a past criminal history does not automatically rule out a favorble plea bargain in the criminal justice system. A consultation with an attorney is often necessary to find the right strategy for each person and each unique case.
Getting an Experienced Local Attorney is the Best Fit in Most Criminal Matters: Hiring a Lawyer Does Not Make You Look Guilty!!
Contrary to what the police might suggest to you if you are being accused of a crime; hiring a lawyer does not make you look guilty. Putting the shoe on the other foot, if a cop were facing criminal accusations, you can bet that he or she would “lawyer up” faster than the speed of light.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer is able to explain the court proceedings and set realistic goals and provide a fairly accurate prediction regarding the outcome of the case. Getting a local attorney within the county where the offense occurred is a good start. Local attorneys with experience that know the courts, the prosecutors and the police are the best fit to give predictions regarding the outcome of a criminal case and answer questions such as:
- Is jail a possibility?
- Can a felony record be avoided?
- Can the felony be reduced to a lower offense or misdemeanor?
- What terms of probation is the judge likely to impose?
- Will I have a criminal record?
- Should I cooperate with the police (aka: snitch, act as an informant)?
- Do I have to talk to the police if I am contacted by the police?
- Do I have to take a polygraph (especially when it comes to sex crimes)?
- How much will an attorney cost?
- How bad is it for someone with a prior criminal record?
- What can happen if there is a warrant for my arrest?
- How much will bond cost?
- What is involved if the case goes to trial?
- Can the case be dismissed completely?
Cooperation, Police Interviews: Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have all of the answers to these questions because your best friend is taking a criminal justice class or because you have a friend that is police officer. Each case and client is unique and the answers to these questions depend upon the individual circumstances involved. For example, we are generally against cooperation (becoming an informant) when a client is not comfortable doing undercover work or can otherwise get a good deal in the court system with an attorney standing up for his rights. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can also make recommendations regarding interviews with the police and polygraph examinations. Interviews with the police are a potential trap when one is not well prepared. In most cases, the police expect the accused party to deny the allegations. The police will use the interview for other purposes such as: establish relationships, place the accused at the crime scene, establish motives and size up the accused’s credibility.
Some Tips When You Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer is not something that anyone wants to do. WE KNOW that choosing a lawyer can be overwhelming and bewildering. Here are a few practical tips that can lead to a prudent decision in hiring a qualified lawyer:
- Does the lawyer specialize in criminal law? I would say that this is the number 1 criteria in hiring a criminal lawyer. The legal profession has moved away from the days when attorneys held themselves out to the public as “general practitioners”. An attorney that splits his time handling practice areas outside of criminal law is rarely a good fit. Specialties exist in every area of the law such as estate planning, family law real estate and personal injury. There are hundreds of laws on the books just in the area of drunk driving alone and several thousands more covering other major practice areas.
- How do you know if the attorney is any good? This is a tough question to answer. I have had to hire lawyers three (3) times for various non-criminal situations. The process of hiring an attorney for me was not easy. So, I realize that the decision to hire one lawyer versus another is not quite that simple. You may have a good recommendation for a lawyer which eliminates the arduous search process for an attorney. Fortunately, the internet has become a major resource of information, ratings and reviews about lawyers if you do not have a recommendation. If the lawyer is well represented on the internet (credible reviews, informative website, ratings by reputable services), or if you have a good impression after speaking to the lawyer or representatives of the law firm on the phone, you next should consider scheduling a first consultation to meet the lawyer face to face. Always ask if there is any fee for the first consultation. Most attorneys, including our firm, offer a free first consultation.
- Are attorney ratings and reviews accurate? There is no easy answer to this question. Let me start out by saying that there are lousy attorneys that have excellent ratings and reviews and there are excellent attorneys with awful ratings and reviews. There are also attorneys that do not have an internet presence, do not seek reviews and just don’t want them for whatever reasons. Ratings and reviews need to be taken in stride. How do you really know if the reviews are from real clients are just harvested from the family and friends of the attorney? For example, you should be suspicious if an attorney has 100 reviews but is his fairly new to the business or has only been licensed for a short time. The best thing to do is to read the reviews carefully. How far back do the reviews go? Are they consistent? Are they detailed or do they seem hyped or spurious? In addition to reviews, there are a number of organizations that provide ratings of attorneys. The oldest rating organization and most credible is Martindale Hubbell which has been in existence since 1868. The highest Martindale Hubbell rating is PREEMINENT, followed by DISTINGUISHED and then followed by NOTABLE. Other rating systems are utilized by AVVO and Yelp.
- What if the attorney has had a grievance? Anyone can file an attorney grievance against an attorney. Criminal lawyers face the most grievances because of the nature of the business and because clients will find faults with the lawyer when the case does not go as planned. The State Bar does not take action for the vast majority of grievances filed. However, the State Bar can take disciplinary action against an attorney for major violations, such as commission of a crime, or minor violations, such as failing to communicate with a client. An attorney with a history of grievances may not be a good fit. On the other hand, just because the State Bar has taken action against an attorney does not mean that the attorney is ineffective or unqualified. Like reviews and ratings, you will need to decide whether an attorney with a prior grievance should be avoided or considered for representation.
- Do attorneys really give phone consultations? Yes, some attorneys, not all, will discuss your case on the telephone or provide internet “chat” discussions. Phone consultations can be a good starting place in the search for a lawyer. However, there are limitations to the amount of time and advice that can be provided on the telephone or in chat discussion scenarios. Our firm offers phone consultations subject to time constraints and other realistic considerations. In our phone consultations, we like to obtain the most pressing information: Brief client history (drugs, marriage, employment, children), Nature of the charges, Court where the case will be heard, Prior lifetime record of the accused party, Name and phone number of the detective, Whether the accused party has posted bond or is in jail.
- What should I expect at the first consultation? The first meeting with an attorney is an excellent opportunity to get an initial impression about the attorney, the office and the staff. For complex criminal cases, there are limitations as to the extent of time and advice that can be dispensed at your first meeting. At the very least, your attorney should be able to cover any pressing matters (acting as an informant, making a statement to the police, forfeiture of assets, setting up an arraignment, quoting a fee, visiting the client in jail). Once hired, the attorney will order your police report and dig further into the underlying case which will facilitate preparation of a solid defense. For routine matters, an attorney is likely able to provide a thorough analysis of the case from beginning to end with coverage of: the expected outcome, whether there will be a criminal record at the conclusion of the case, the likely terms of sentence (jail/probation), the approximate fines and costs and whether there is any chance of getting the matter dismissed, reduced or amended.
- How much will it cost to hire a lawyer for criminal case? Lawyers have several ways that they charge for their services. We have adopted a fixed flat fee policy to handle just about every type of criminal, drunk driving and traffic case. The fixed flat fee arrangement means that an exact cost is charged for legal services thus eliminating the mystery associated with hourly rates and other vague fee agreements. Hourly rates on the other hand can be intimidating especially when an attorney cannot give a prediction or estimate as to how much time/hours the entire case will entail. In addition, attorneys that bill on an hourly basis do so for every phone call, text message, email and while they are driving to court and waiting in courtroom for the case to be called. Attorney fees will also depend upon the prior criminal history of the client, the seriousness of the offense, the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer, the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances and the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services.
- Who is responsible for out of pocket costs and expenses associated with my case? Sometimes it is necessary to employ outside resources/services to assist in the defense of a criminal case. The costs or expenses that are paid to outside parties for their services are referred to as out of pocket costs. Out of pocket costs are always the responsibility of the client and all attorneys will seek reimbursement accordingly. The following are examples of out of pocket costs: employing a private investigator to obtain witness statements, forensic analysis of evidence, expert witnesses, private polygraph examination and extensive costs associated with discovery, copies and postage.
- Should I get a court appointed lawyer? The Right to Counsel in criminal proceedings is guaranteed by the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Should you be charged with a crime and unable to afford an attorney, the court will appoint an attorney to provide representation. Some attorneys are willing to accept court appointed cases. You do not get to choose your court appointed attorney. The court will select an attorney from a list or the matter will be referred to Macomb County Judicial Aide for handling.