You get arrested. You hire a criminal defense attorney. Some time passes. You realize that your attorney is not the person that you thought he or she would be.
When you first met with your attorney, they may have been full of promises. But after some time has passed, they don't take your calls, they don't update you on the progress of your case. And things just seem to be dragging on without any results.
Now criminal defense attorneys are not magicians. Your case does not automatically go away just because you spend money on a lawyer.
But a good defense attorney should communicate with their client and keep them informed about their case. A good defense attorney should also work on moving a case along without purposefully stalling. That means that depositions should be set in a timely fashion, motions (if applicable) should be filed, and plea negotiations (if that's the direction the case is headed) should be ongoing.
But attorneys get busy and sometimes neglect their clients. And sometimes attorneys just get lazy. Attorneys are, after all, human.
But if your relationship has soured or you are not confident that your attorney is doing all he or she can do to get you the best outcome in your criminal case, feel free to shop around.
I recommend trying to mend fences with your attorney. Call them or schedule a meeting and tell them how you feel. If the attorney is not responding to your concerns, then it may be time to find a new attorney.
You can change attorneys in the middle of a criminal case. However, the judge must approve a substitution of counsel. Be advised that if your case is getting old, the judge may either not permit the substitution (because a new attorney will need time to get caught up) or may permit the substitution upon the condition that no new continuances are taken.
Hiring a new attorney MAY lead to a better result. This may be because you hire a more legally talented attorney, a more proactive attorney, or just an attorney who is better at communication.
I have substituted onto cases where the previous attorney did absolutely no work on the case. I have also substituted onto cases where the previous attorney had done a fantastic job, just fell short when it came to keeping the client informed. So when I use the word MAY, I want to stress (hence the caps) that hiring a new attorney mid-case does not mean that you will get a better outcome.
But under no circumstances should you settle for a sub-par attorney. You should also not settle for an attorney who may be talented in the courtroom but lacking when it comes to common decency and manners (such as returning phone calls and emails).
If you believe that you cannot work with the attorney you have hired, you should know that it is your right as a client to hire a new attorney. You are not married to the attorney you retained. You can leave the relationship. However, most fee agreements provide that attorney fees are non-refundable, so the financial reality of not getting your money back and then having to pay another attorney's fee (which may be greater than the first attorney's fee) must be considered.
All in all, your freedom, your reputation, and essentially your life are on the line when charged with a crime. You owe it to yourself to hire the best attorney you can afford. If you discover that you have not done that, then it might be time to consider changing attorneys.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.