Hiring a private defense attorney can be pretty costly. Most folks don’t have thousands of dollars to do that nor were planning to be in trouble. It’s understandable that a person would prefer to test their luck with the assigned Pubic Defender. Unfortunately, most people don’t consider the collateral issues that will come up due to being criminally charged. You are likely to save money in the long run when you prevent those problems.
For example, when someone who was arrested for DUI on Friday and bailed out, the Monday Arraignment may not go as you anticipate. On a fairly regular occurrence, the jail will either release the person with no bail or set bail at $5000 (when there should have been a no bail hold). The person arrested pays the $500 (10% of bail to a bailbonds company) and heads home. The defendant doesn’t realize that, since it was a second DUI or perhaps someone was injured, the prosecutor is going to ask to have you taken back into custody and increase bail. That comes as quite a shock.
If you call us on Saturday morning, we can have you doing proactive steps that will greatly reduce your chance of being taken back into custody. We need to make sure you take certain steps that can convince the Judge that you are not a risk to the community and will return for all future court dates.
In addition to saving you money by reducing or eliminating bail, we help our clients stay out of jail, which helps them stay employed. Whenever possible, we also try to avoid having our clients attend court. In some cases, we can have the Arraignment waived and we also try to have our clients attend court via zoom so they don’t miss more work or have to put children in daycare.
In assault cases, we do everything possible with the accused and the alleged victim to reduce the time of the No Contact Order (if appropriate and requested). In these cases, the accused is usually having to maintain and pay for a separate residence. The parent left at home has to maintain the entire household and take care of the children without any help. This can get very costly where additional rents and child care are now required. Getting that NCO lifted as soon as possible saves money. That is not something a public defender would assist with nor is appropriate since it does not pertain to your defense.
What is the problem with trying a PD then hiring a private lawyer later?
This is probably the biggest mistake you can make. The vast majority of “posturing” in a criminal matter happens at the outset of the case. In fact, whenever possible, we want on the case the moment the Summons arrives and BEFORE the Arraignment. We can help the client get a lot of proactive steps taken that will greatly help with getting a dismissal or negotiating the case favorably. If you were arrested and there is no Summons, we still want to be on the case prior to Arraignment. Even 12 hours can help us change the trajectory of how the client is perceived—especially for setting bail or release conditions.
What are some of the benefits to hiring a criminal defense lawyer early?
• Reduce or prevent bail
• Argue against expensive or burdensome release conditions
• Discuss your case prior to Arraignment rather than weeks after with a PD
• Make sure your DOL hearing request gets filed
• Get advice on handling your DOL hearing (PDs do not handle these)
• Get advice on how to get licensed even if you are suspended
• Get the client into evaluations or other tasks that will improve their odds
• Put client in touch with advisors regarding professional licenses, clearances, etc.
• Negotiate to have case dismissed or charges reduced prior to Arraignment
• If pre-Arraignment, negotiate resolution and have only one hearing
• Work with alleged victim to take steps to facilitate removal of NCO, if desired
• Assist managing concerns of employer to avoid termination
• Manage any outstanding issues such as warrants or other charges
• Prepare response/defense on a MTR on another case
• Managing compliance reports
• Avoiding bench warrants
• Notifying client if a MTR is filed or is likely to be filed
• Managing MTR if a new charge is filed (entering a denial)
• Answering the phone 7 days a week to answer questions about paperwork
• Advising in the future on employment or other issues that come up
The list goes on. The primary benefits will depend on your charge, the facts, and what concerns you have regarding the future. If you are serving in the military, you will have other unique issues that are best served by private counsel particularly because you are always on the move. Having local counsel who is monitoring your case and can locate you or your command to give updates on court dates is invaluable to active duty. Avoid those warrants!
Why don’t Public Defenders do the same things?
Public defense tax money is supposed to be used for those people who are deemed indigent and qualify based on a criminal charge. Many of the “benefits” listed above are issues that arise due to complications from being criminally charged but they are not directly related to the actual defense of your case. For example, your license suspension is triggered by your arrest but it is a civil matter. PD does not handle civil issues. Many of the other issues listed above pertain to counsel or advice rather than defense. A private defense attorney is really counseling you through this process while advocating for your defense.
See the difference in action.
If you still aren’t sure about how this works, we encourage you to sit in on criminal calendars in Kitsap County. You will regularly see public defense clients miss court dates.
When their public defender is asked about the client’s presence or lack thereof, the attorney typically responds with “I have no knowledge of my client’s whereabouts” or “I haven’t had contact with this client” or “I don’t have a phone number for this client.” Then, the prosecutor requests a warrant for $2500 or $5000, which is usually granted.
The truth is, the public defender has no time nor any obligation to track down the client in advance to notify them of the hearing. In 99% of cases, a notice of court date was mailed to the client and that suffices as notice. However, many people do not update their accurate mailing address (the court uses what you have on file with DOL) so the client never gets notice. Unfortunately, you are deemed to have been given adequate notice. Basically, a lack of notice based on moving or not updating your address is your fault.
You will never see this with our clients. We require clients to provide multiple methods of contact and keep us updated of changes. When we are notified of a court date, we notify our clients and provide them a zoom link for court. Our clients do not miss court due to these issues. Consequently, our clients do not get bench warrants and ruin their chance for a favorable resolution to their case.
Being informed of pending court dates may seem trivial but it can make or break a case. Prosecutors and judges do not trust people who fail to show up to court and typically punish you for that misstep.
I’ve never hired a criminal lawyer so how do I know if I am paying too much?
First, criminal defense attorneys charge on a flat fee and are barred by law from charging a contingency fee. They do not bill hourly against a retainer like a family law attorneys or other types of civil attorneys. If you have a felony or potentially very time-intensive case, an attorney may charge you a flat fee but ask that you also be prepared to pay additional money later on an hourly basis. This is not typical for misdemeanor cases.
While the flat fee covers nearly everything for the case, there are typically additional fees if the case goes to trial. The Fee Agreement will list that as a “trial fee” and indicates the cost by day. So, if your trial is a two day trial, you can multiply the trial fee by the days your attorney anticipates your trial will take. Most misdemeanor cases are usually one or two day trials. However, don’t worry too much about that additional fee because the vast majority of DUI cases do not go to trial (in most counties, over 90% resolve prior to trial).
What does it cost to hire private defense for a DUI or other misdemeanor?
There is a range on this because larger firms tend to have much higher overhead. Additionally, firms in larger cities will have more costly leases and other overhead related to running a business in a more populated area. Be prepared to pay more if the attorney you hire is located in a larger city or runs extensive advertising campaigns.
For example, you can pay as much as $15,000 for a DUI in Seattle or Kirkland and that will likely not include trial fees. If you hire an attorney who works out of Tacoma, you might expect to pay over $6000 for a first time DUI and we have heard firms charging as much as $7500. In Kitsap, some attorneys are charging as much as $5000 or $6000 for a first time DUI particularly where they have satellite offices outside of Kitsap.
We are able to charge less than most firms because we have relatively low overhead and do not spend money on fancy advertising (notice, you won’t find our faces on a billboard or in a radio jingle…those cost tens of thousands of dollars every month). We appreciate that most of our clients come to us by referrals or past client reviews so we pass that savings on to our local community. So, if you have no criminal history and your case is a first time DUI without special allegations (i.e. no accident, no obstruction or eluding) or a Hit & Run unattended, the fee is typically around $3000 depending on your facts.
If you are facing a criminal charge in Kitsap County or surrounding cities, please give our office a call for help. We answer 7 days a week. (360) 792-1000.