Why Hire a Lawyer for a Misdemeanor in New York City?
An important part of taking a misdemeanor accusation seriously is to recognize the value in hiring a private lawyer. This advice may seem more than a little self serving, coming from a criminal defense lawyer. Nevertheless, if you read on, I think you will probably agree, in the end, that in any case, there is a value in having the assistance of your own private criminal defense lawyer to help you whether you are simply expecting to settle the matter or whether you are looking for a full blown trial.
More Affordable than You May Think
The truth is that, depending on what you are looking for in a particular case, hiring a private lawyer may end up being far more affordable than you might imagine. There is really nothing mysterious about this. In other situations, people readily understand that different jobs will require different amounts of work and expertise and will therefore be either more or less expensive as a result.
The legal world is no different.
Settling a Case Often Requires Far Less Time than a Trial - Less Time Equals Less Money
If you are charged with a misdemeanor and you know that you want to have your day in court (after between six months to a year of returning to court periodically) and you know that you want to have your jury trial complete with private investigators and expert witnesses, then expectations about legal fees may well be justified. The amount of out of court preparation, not to mention the in court time on trial is enormous, and the skills that must be brought to bear are highly specialized. Therefore, there will be a cost.
(Of course we have helped many people down this road toward and including trial. If that is what you are looking for, rest assured that we can help you with that, and have helped many people in this way over our more than 20 years experience as New York City criminal defense lawyers. Please visit our Misdemeanor Trial article for a further discussion of the realities of taking this path.).
On the other hand, if you think your needs are more modest, and maybe you might be willing to settle your case if you can do so without a criminal record or prison time, and other potential consequences can be properly managed, then you can likewise reasonably expect that your legal fees will be much more affordable. This is not because your legal services are suddenly somehow "cut-rate". It simply reflects that less time is necessary to achieve the desired result. The less time spent, the lower the cost. It is simple economics.
We help people accused of misdemeanors achieve their goals with their cases, and in many cases that may well mean settling the cases simply, efficiently, and with as little inconvenience as possible to the client. Sometimes, the goal of someone accused of a misdemeanor is the knock down, drag out case that kicks around Criminal Court for a year or so until we finally get to do the ten witness, expert driven jury trial. But that is rare. More often than not, people accused of misdemeanors (especially those accused for the first time) have much more modest goals that can be met with a minimum of time spent in court and in negotiations with the Government. It just stands to reason that we will not charge the same fees for these very very different sets of circumstances.
The vast majority of misdemeanor cases, therefore, can be handled even by established New York City criminal defense firms like Shalley and Murray, for fees that are quite affordable and substantially different from the fees that might be associated with a trial case.
A Private Criminal Lawyer Can Help in a Variety of Ways You may not have Considered
Once you realize that a private criminal defense lawyer for your misdemeanor case in New York City is going to be affordable, then your next question may be, "Well so what? Why Shouldn't I just let it play out and see if I can skate by with one of the public defenders if they don't bother to screen me for eligibility?"
Often in New York City, people are under the impression that they can relatively easily escape serious screening for public defender eligibility and "go with a public defender". Why, even the police who arrest people for misdemeanors will often point blank advise people that all they need to do is "go with" a public defender because it is no big deal.
Technically, the public defender organizations are required to screen everyone for eligibility for their services. Inexplicably, this screening process occasionally is not exactly rigorous. It will depend on the particular public defender in question and on the vigilance of the particular judge in question at arraignments.
But the question then will be, assuming you can escape serious eligibility screening, is this what you want to do? Is there anything that engaging your own private criminal lawyer can get you?
And the answer is that there are a number of legitimate reasons to seek out your own private lawyer on a misdemeanor case in New York City, if you have the means. None of the reasons listed below is that public defenders are by definition poor lawyers. All public defenders are no more poor lawyers than all private lawyers are great lawyers. Every lawyer is an individual person with his or her own strengths, weaknesses, and experience level. There are great, top-notch public defender lawyers. There are private lawyers who could benefit from additional training. The reasons listed below relate to objective reasons why your experience with a private criminal attorney on a misdemeanor accusation in New York City might be superior to your experience with a public defender. If some of the following items are important to you, it might well be worth it for you to take advantage of a free consultation.
Personalized Customer Service
A Private Criminal Lawyer will provide you with a highly personalized level of customer service that you may not experience with the public defenders. For example, I am generally available to all my clients, under normal circumstances in the evenings and on weekends as well as during regular business hours. This means that when you have a question about your case, you have a means to getting an answer sooner rather than later.
Try calling your public defender at night or on the weekend about your misdemeanor case. Do you have his or her cell phone number? Can you text message to the public defender? In most cases, the ability to speak to your lawyer at night or on the weekends may not be case critical. Rather it is a convenience, but it is a nice thing nonetheless that makes your experience as a defendant in a criminal case less stressful. My clients are able to communicate using text messaging, email, and cell phone. The ease with which you, as a client, can communicate with your lawyer is certainly a legitimate factor to consider. Certainly it is valuable to be able to get answers to your questions or concerns when they are preying upon your mind the most. Little is more frustrating than having what you believe to be an important question, but not being able to even hope to get an answer until the weekend is over.
Of course there may be times when I will not actually be able to instantly pick up the telephone, but my clients can reasonably expect to stay in touch with me and have me return calls, emails and text messages regardless of whether it is between 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday. I have had clients who have reported to me an enormous amount of difficulty reaching certain individual public defenders, even during regular business hours.
One question to ask yourself if you are considering "seeing how it goes" with a public defender who didn't bother to screen you for eligibility is whether it matters to you to be able to fully discuss your case with your lawyer whenever you like and however often you like. One of the things that goes along with having your own private criminal defense lawyer is access to advice when you need it, as opposed to the point at which you are able to track down the public defender.
You Choose Your Lawyer instead of Having Lawyer Assigned at Random
Another benefit to hiring your own private criminal defense lawyer is that you will be able to find someone you personally screen and decide you want to help you. If you decide to "go with" a public defender, then you will be represented by someone who has been assigned to you by chance. Maybe you will get along with this person. Maybe you will like this person. Maybe this is the exact sort of lawyer you would have hired if given the chance.
But then again, maybe not.
You will have no control over the amount of experience, for example, that the person assigned to you has. You could be assigned a twenty year veteran with incredible trial experience and astounding legal skills. You could be assigned an attorney who passed the bar exam last month and who has never once done a trial.
Criminal Court, where misdemeanors are heard, is where the public defender organizations train their new lawyers. New lawyers are generally not permitted to handle felony cases until they get some experience...with misdemeanors.
Now of course, the New York State Bar Association tells us that any lawyer admitted to practice law is authorized to handle any legal matter, with sufficient preparation and study. Nevertheless, it certainly stands to reason that if you were choosing between two lawyers to represent you, one factor you could consider quite reasonably would be which lawyer had more experience.
If you hire your own private lawyer, you get to choose a lawyer with the amount of experience you want.
Otherwise, you get whichever lawyer is assigned to you.
Convenience and Predictability of Time Spent in Court
As a general rule, if you have your own private criminal lawyer on a misdemeanor, you will be able to expect a more consistent experience in terms of the time spent lingering in criminal court waiting for your case to be called for the day. Realize that in New York City Criminal Court, there are no specific appointments for when your case is called to be heard on any given day. Every single person is told to be in their courtroom at 9:30 AM. Rest assured that in New York City criminal courtrooms, you will never be the only person on the calendar on a particular day. In fact, you will be scheduled for the same date and time as probably about 150 people, depending on the county and day of the week. All 150 of you are scheduled for 9:30 AM.
You may wonder then, how it is decided who is called when. They do not generally go in order from 1 to 150. They do not call cases in alphabetical order. As a general rule, cases are called in the order in which lawyers sign them up to be called. This makes a big difference for people who have cases in Criminal Court.
If you have a private criminal lawyer, in most cases, you and the private lawyer will agree to meet in court when it opens around 9 or so, in order to be among the first cases signed in. If you are there early and your lawyer is there early, it is likely the case will be called quickly and you will be done before 10 AM. Many court appearances in criminal court are bureaucratic and brief. That means that you can reasonably predict being done in the morning and you will still have the whole day ahead of you to go into work, to go to school, or do just about anything more pleasant than lingering in a New York City Criminal courtroom.
If you have a public defender, however, you may have a far less predictable and therefore far less convenient experience. The public defenders frequently have larger caseloads than private lawyers and therefore will often have quite a number of cases to deal with on any given day, often in other courtrooms, sometimes in other buildings. Also, the rules generally require lawyers to deal with more serious (felony) matters before dealing with less serious matters (misdemeanors). Therefore, if the good news is that you were lucky enough to be assigned an experienced public defender, the bad news is that it is likely your experienced public defender has felony matters to attend to in Supreme Court in addition to your misdemeanor case. It is not likely, therefore, that you will be that lawyer's first stop of the day. So have a seat in the courtroom and wait. No cell phone. No reading. No talking. Just wait.
As the accused, however, you are not permitted the luxury of showing up whenever you like. If you are not in Court at 9:30, you run the risk of having problems with the judge on the off chance that the judge decides to see who is there and who isn't. This doesn't always happen, and in fact is sort of rare, but it can't be ruled out mathematically. Judges would be within their rights to call roll and issue warrants for all defendants who are not in their courtrooms at 9:31 AM. I appeared before a judge in Queens some years ago in Supreme Court who used to do exactly that. It is rare, of course, but the bottom line is that to be on the safest possible side and to avoid problems, you as the accused must appear at 9:30 AM, even if your public defender is going to be very late in the day because of obligations in other courtrooms.
Furthermore, even if the judge doesn't call roll right away, if you aren't there in the courtroom when your public defender shows up during the course of his travels, he isn't likely to wait for you and will instead move on to other courtrooms and other clients, leaving you until the end of the day.
Therefore, as between the public defender and the private lawyer, your experience waiting in court is likely to be much less frustrating and much more predictable with a private criminal lawyer. If the risk of spending the better part of an entire day in Criminal Court for a two minute court appearance is not a problem, then this issue matters not. If, however, you would prefer to avoid spending an entire frustrating day in a New York City Criminal Courtroom, then this might be an additional reason to think about hiring your own private criminal lawyer, or at least taking advantage of a free consultation.
Avoiding The SWEEPER or ANCHOR
So frequently, in fact, are the public defenders unable to get to the clients they represent on misdemeanor cases in New York City that a special institution has been built into the system to address the problem. Depending on the borough and the public defense organization, that institution is called "The Sweeper" or "The Anchor". Every day, in every misdemeanor courtroom in New York City, the public defenders send in an attorney (who is called "the sweeper" or "the anchor") whose job it is to appear in the afternoon and handle all the misdemeanors that the other lawyers couldn't get to that day. You can spot the "sweeper" usually because of the large pile of case folders he or she will be holding and by the number of consecutive cases being handled in court, especially in the afternoon.
That means that the Sweeper is standing up on cases that are typically not his or her own and may well be meeting the clients for the first time. If your case is handled by the sweeper that means that your case is being handled by someone you probably haven't even met before - not even the lawyer you were initially assigned. There is nothing inherently wrong with this legally, especially if the lawyer has left careful notes about his wishes on your file. And yet, at the same time, if you were imagining the type of representation you would choose in a perfect world, this probably wouldn't be the system that would spring first to your mind.
If you were choosing how your representation would go, you would likely assume that the person you chose to represent you would be the one who would be making appearances with you in Court and who would be there to talk to at the critical moments in Court.
This is what it means to have a private lawyer.
Now of course private lawyers too occasionally have scheduling conflicts, whether because they are on trial or some other reason. Nevertheless, those conflicts are typically rare, or at least they are rare in my cases and in the cases handled by Shalley and Murray.
Furthermore, when I have a scheduling conflict, it will never be a surprise to my client and in most cases I will offer my clients two choices: (1) to wait for me in court until I can be there or (2) to provide another lawyer (usually my partner of equal experince to me). In most cases, my clients will choose to have my partner appear in order to make sure their experience in court is as brief as possible. My partner will at the very least speak to the client by telephone prior to the appearance and review the matter so that they are not meeting for the first time in court.
Once again, if you are happy to be represented by whatever lawyer you have never met before after waiting until 3:30 PM for the lawyer you thought was representing you, then this will not be a concern for you. On the other hand, if you would prefer to have some measure of predictability in your court appearances, including knowing the lawyer who is going to appear with you, then it might be a good idea to look into hiring your own private criminal lawyer. A free consultation with a private lawyer might not be a bad idea.
You May Be Faced with Decisions that will Have Consequences Beyond The Criminal Justice System - This Isn't as Simple as You Might Think
In the context of misdemeanor charges in New York City, especially first arrest misdemeanor charges, you may be under the impression that the a lawyer doesn't matter in the sense that in many cases nothing terribly bad is going to happen.
And yet, you must realize that even among the group of possible outcomes to your case that could be labeled "nothing bad" there are still a range of possible outcomes and some may be better than others.
Maybe it is "only" the difference between having to do a week of community service and doing a day of community service or none at all. Maybe it is the difference between having to pay a $250 or a $50 fine, or none at all. Maybe it is the difference between getting an offer of one particular non-criminal offense as opposed to another to avoid potential deportation. Or maybe it is the difference between an ACD or a plea to a non-criminal offense.
You should realize that the criminal justice system can do more to you than just send you to jail and give you a criminal record and therefore, you may want to do what you can to increase the chances that the outcome of your case is not just "good enough" to keep from going to jail and getting a criminal record, but maybe saves you from losing your job, being deported, losing custody of your children, losing the ability to get student loans, gets you kicked out of your housing, saves you from having to pay high fines, saves you from having to do enormous amounts of community service, and more.
If none of these things are important to you, or if you are not even the slightest bit concerned about any of these things, then perhaps bringing in your own private criminal lawyer who you are personally satsified with and whose advice you trust makes no sense.
If these things are important to you, however, then it certainly makes sense to consider the option of finding your own private criminal attorney who you know and trust to advise you. Especially since the advice and assistance of a private criminal attorney in the context of misdemeanors in New York City is far more affordable than you probably think, I would imagine that it would be worth at least a free consultation.
Don Murray, pictured above, is one of the founding partners at Shalley and Murray who has been practicing criminal defense exclusively in New York City for more than 27 years. He has helped many good people in his career. He can help you too. Call or text for your free consultation.
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Texting is often a fantastic way to reach an attorney quickest. Our attorneys are often in Court where they are obviously unable to answer the telephone or listen to voice messages, but they can often see and respond to text messages from Court. Text us now and you will likely be in touch with a criminal lawyer, as opposed to a receptionist, right away.