You get a call from a family member, friend, or client who’s either been arrested or will be soon with a misdemeanor, such as a DUI. Maybe you’re new to practice or criminal law isn’t your usual area. Should you take on the case? Follow these steps before deciding whether to jump in.
First, analyze the complexity of the issues involved, such as:
- Custody. Determine whether the client is already in custody and thus whether you’ll have to fight to get him or her released.
- Codefendants. Learn whether there are codefendants involved. If so, has more than one of them requested your services? Should they be tried at the same trial? Has one of them made a statement against your client?
- Conflicts. Find out whether any conflicts exist, i.e., have you or your firm represented a codefendant, the victim, or any witnesses?
- Prior record. If the client has a record of prior arrests or convictions, this might make negotiating a disposition more difficult and affect sentencing.
- Number of witnesses. If there are numerous witnesses, you’ll spend more time preparing for and conducting trial.
- DMV involvement. If the misdemeanor involves driving a vehicle, will the client will face a DMV administrative hearing?
- Immigration status. Consider whether the client’s immigration status will raise issues.
- Documents. Figure out what documents you’ll need to obtain, such as medical or phone records through a subpoena duces tecum or a signed release from your client.
- Expert witness. Determine whether this is a case that will require consultation with an expert witness.
After evaluating the complexity of issues in the case, consider whether you’ll actually have the time to handle the case. Estimate the number of hours you’ll need to e.g., research and prepare pretrial motions, make court appearances, prepare facts for trial and sentencing.
If you aren’t familiar with the legal issues in the case, you’ll have to either acquire the expertise, which will take time, or associate with another attorney who does have the expertise.
Any of these issues of complexity, time, or expertise may lead you to decline the case. Of course, there’s also always the issue of money: Does the client have the ability to pay costs and your fees?
For more specific guidance on what to do when a client is arrested or facing imminent arrest, turn to CEB’s Defending Your Client in a Misdemeanor Case (Including a DUI). If you decide to go for the case, get sample retainer agreements in CEB’s California Criminal Law Forms Manual §§3.1-3.2. On how to protect your client’s immigration interests in both misdemeanor and felony cases, turn to CEB’s California Criminal Defense of Immigrants. For more about the possible complexities in a criminal case in CEB’s California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice, the “crim law bible.”
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- DUI Basics Every Attorney Should Know
- 18 Questions to Spot the Issues in a Criminal Case
- What to Expect at an Arraignment
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