The decision to hire a criminal defense attorney may very well be one of the most important decisions you ever make. When your freedom is at stake, the person whom you choose to represent your interests may very well be the difference between a positive outcome and a negative outcome.
You should expect your criminal defense attorney to know the law. The attorney should understand the charges you are facing, the law applicable to those charges, possible defenses, and the possible penalties. Since Florida is a state that believes in mandatory minimum sentencing, many crimes carry mandatory prison time. Your defense attorney should be able to tell you at your very first consultation if there is a chance that you will be facing mandatory prison time.
Your attorney should have experience. You can hire a lousy attorney with 35 years experience or a great attorney with 5 years experience. Years in practice doesn't necessarily mean experience in the courtroom. In fact, most people who have spent their careers in private practice have substantially less trial experience than younger attorneys who have been assistant public defenders or assistant state attorneys. Find out about your attorney's trial experience. While you may not want to go to trial on your case and may prefer that your attorney work out a good plea deal for you, it is still important that your attorney be prepared to try your case should negotiations fail. Like I always say - a great defense attorney is both a skilled negotiator and a well-prepared trial attorney.
Your attorney should make him or herself available to you. That means, at a minimum, they return your phone calls and emails. Now as the client, you need to understand that attorneys are humans too and we have lives and families that we go home to every night. While I am happy to take a call at 3:00 in the morning, you should know the difference between an emergency and a non-emergency. If cops are kicking down your door with a search warrant, that's an emergency. If you are anxious about your upcoming court date and just want to chat with your lawyer, perhaps it can wait until morning. However, you should have an open line of communication with your attorney. While attorneys are busy people and often running around, your attorney should return your calls within a reasonable amount of time. If your attorney is ignoring you, that's a problem. In fact that Florida Bar requires that attorneys maintain adequate communication with their clients.
Your attorney should be patient and be able to explain things so that you understand them. You are not an attorney. You are charged with a crime. You are scared and you don't know what's going to happen to you. Your attorney should be able to communicate with you so that you understand the charges and the criminal justice process. If you are going to accept a plea, your attorney must be able to convey the terms and conditions of the plea so that you completely understand what you are getting yourself into. For instance, if you are pleading guilty to a charge that carries a mandatory driver's license suspension, your attorney must tell you that. If they don't, it's not only ineffective assistance, it's just plain wrong. Make sure your attorney communicates clearly with you regarding all matters pertaining to your case.
Your attorney should be honest. Brutally honest. That means not making false promises or trying to downplay the seriousness of your charges. Your attorney is here to protect you. If you are in trouble, your attorney should not be telling you that everything's going to be fine when it's clearly not. Your attorney should be confident in their ability to defend you, but they should not give you false hope. Your attorney cannot promise or guarantee an outcome. They can give you opinions. They can tell you that you have a strong or weak case. But honesty is important. If you want an attorney who will make promises and lie to get your money, so be it. Those attorneys are hacks and are a disgrace to the profession. A great attorney will never do that.
These are just a few things you should expect from your attorney. The attorney-client relationship is sacred and it is not a one-way street. You should be a good client just as your attorney should be a good advocate. A good client maintains contact with their attorney, shows up to court when needed, and meets their financial obligations according to the agreement.
It's your life we're talking about! Don't settle. Hire the best attorney that you can.