If you’re searching Broward criminal defense attorneys for hire, you’re likely wondering how much it’s going to cost. You’ve probably heard at least one attorney advertisement with the phrase, “We only get paid if you win.” Important to note: This does NOT apply to criminal defense lawyers – and for good reasons, which we’ll explain more later.
However, those with limited financial resources still have options.
If you’ve been arrested in Fort Lauderdale, it’s important to both carefully plan your next move and try your best to stay within budget. The right attorney can help you do that. Attorneys are ethically bound to only charge “reasonable” fees for their services. If their charges are excessive, they could face action from the state Bar Association.
Here, we’re going to break down how payments to Florida criminal defense lawyers work and what you can expect when hiring an attorney.
Your Right to Free Counsel
Most people have heard the phrase, “You have the right to an attorney… If you cannot afford one, one will be provided for you at no cost…”
This is part of the “Miranda Warning,” a required statement made prior to custodial interrogations (questioning that occurs after police have arrested or detained someone). However, people mistakenly assume that this right to free legal counsel applies to all criminal defendants. It does not.
Let’s start with the fact that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is what gives criminal defendants the right to counsel – regardless of whether they can afford it – in federal prosecutions. However, most criminal prosecutions in Florida occur at the state level, pursued by state-level prosecutors, who are referred to as state attorneys. The right to counsel was not applied to state prosecutions for felony offenses until the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright. The incorporation doctrine applied this right to state felony cases, but it does not apply for certain misdemeanors.
In Florida state-level prosecutions, you do have the right to a state-appointed criminal defense lawyer if:
- You are facing jail time AND
- You cannot afford one on your own.
If you can afford to hire your own lawyer, it’s a good idea to do so. We have known excellent criminal defense lawyers working for the Florida Public Defender’s Office. However, they are often carrying heavy caseloads, and may not have a great deal of time to dedicate to your case. Hiring a private criminal defense lawyer is typically to your advantage.
It’s a common misconception that because you aren’t appointed a criminal defense lawyer that you don’t need one. While lower-level misdemeanors may not involve jail time, a conviction can often have a significant impact on your life – one that a qualified criminal defense lawyer can work to substantially mitigate. It is typically to your advantage – financially and otherwise – to hire a Broward criminal defense lawyer even for misdemeanor cases.
Why Can’t Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers Be Paid on a Contingency Fee Basis?
The phrase, “We don’t get paid unless you win” refers to a contingency fee arrangement with an attorney.
As explained by the American Bar Association, a contingency fee arrangement really only works when there’s the potential for money to be claimed at the end of a case. That’s why you’ll see it often in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases because financial damage awards are the primary goal. Contingency fee arrangements involve the lawyer agreeing to accept a fixed percentage of that recovery amount, usually somewhere around one-third to 40 percent. So if you win, the lawyer’s fee comes out of the award you receive at the end of your case. If you lose, neither you nor the attorney receives money, and you’re not required to pay your attorney for the work that was done. (You may still be responsible for things like court filing fees, etc.)
Contingency fee arrangements work in personal injury and worker’s compensation cases because they allow people who can’t afford an attorney upfront the ability to hire one and take their claim to court – especially if they’ve got a strong case. That evens the playing field when you’re up against deep-pocketed defendants, like insurance companies.
But this type of arrangement doesn’t work for Broward criminal defense attorneys. In fact, it could be illegal.
For starters, even if you prevail in a criminal defense case, there is no money or settlement being awarded at the conclusion. There would be no monetary pot from which your attorney could collect their share.
Furthermore, criminal defense cases aren’t really about “wins” and “losses” the same way personal injury cases are. You’re not fighting for monetary compensation because you’ve been hurt. In a Florida criminal defense case, you’re fighting to defend your rights and freedoms. Ideally, you’re emerging from a criminal case with no conviction or penalties, but some might not exactly call that a “win” considering what you endure up to that point. But depending on the circumstances, a “win” could mean agreeing to plead to significantly lesser charges or a deal for reduced sentencing.
Fee structures for criminal defense lawyers can include:
- Retainers. This is an up-front advance payment from which the attorney will draw to cover your legal fees as work is completed. Retainers can vary depending on the attorney’s hourly rate and the complexity of the case.
- Flat fee arrangements. This is less common, but it involves a flat-fee for certain types of criminal cases – particularly lower-level misdemeanors or traffic infractions.
- Trial fees and court costs. This varies, but you may be responsible for court fees, filing fees, expert witness fees, etc. Your attorney should explain all this to you when you first agree to work together.
The good news is that most defense lawyers provide free initial consultations. That allows you to interview several different lawyers and get a sense of their fee structure and payment options, which can include installment plans. The investment is almost always worth it, particularly when you consider what you’re facing not only with regard to incarceration, but in fines and the longtail impact of a conviction on your permanent record.
Is There Any Way to Lower My Legal Costs?
Some elements that factor into how much you will expect to pay:
- The experience of the attorney.
- The severity of your charges.
- The complexity of your case.
- Geography. (You’re probably going to pay more in Miami-Dade than Desoto.)
That said, there may be several ways to reduce your legal fees. These include:
- Answering your lawyer’s questions fully and honestly. This allows them to save time and do the best job possible. Even if there are facts that reflect poorly on you, it’s important for your lawyer to know them so that they can do their best to defend you. A surprise revelation halfway into the proceedings can cost you financially if it requires a fair amount of legal re-maneuvering.
- Staying informed and available. Ask for copies of important documents. Be reachable to your attorney. Show up for all your court dates.
Note that while you’re free to compare attorneys, shopping for the lowest fee may not be the best strategy. The cheapest isn’t necessarily the best – or the worst. But make sure you’re considering things like experience in your problem area, the attorney’s availability and communication style, location, and accessibility.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.