Most people accused of crimes or under investigation for violating the law realize this is serious business, and they should hire an attorney. If this is you, click here.
If you have been getting advice from friends and others telling you that you really don't need to hire an attorney, keep reading. The attorneys in this firm have over 50 years combined experience in the specialty of criminal law, including over 10 years as prosecutors.
Our firm frequently gets requests from individuals who had concluded their criminal cases in court (without hiring their own attorney) wanting to clear their criminal records. Often they requested the court to appoint counsel for them, or even sought to represent themselves in their previous cases. After these decisions, they found that they were saddled with a permanent criminal record that continues to hamper their ability to obtain good employment, obtain loans, purchase or carry firearms, obtain or maintain a professional license, or lease or buy a home. With the easy and fast transmission of information via the Internet, background checks are almost certain in today's environment.
Unfortunately, we must often inform these individuals that due to the finality of the actions taken in their previous court cases, they are permanently marked with a criminal record. Had these individuals hired qualified legal counsel at the outset of the cases, they may have either avoided the criminal record consequences, or at minimum, been more aware of the effects of their decisions on their future. Justice should not be a volume business carried out in haste. "Meet-'Em-and-Plead-'Em" is not the best way to manage a problem with potentially serious consequences.
Defendants may be told by friends, relatives, bondsmen or others to just go to court and ask the judge to appoint a lawyer. But how does that work, and is it really free? In 1963, the United States Supreme Court said in Gideon v. Wainwright that a person accused of a crime who faces possible jail or prison time is entitled to have an attorney appointed if that person is indigent. But that person does not have the right to interview various attorneys and tell the judge which lawyer to appoint. While there is a right to have a lawyer appointed in certain circumstances; the only way a defendant has a right to pick a specific lawyer is to interview the attorney, and then hire that attorney.
In Tarrant County, whether a defendant is "indigent" is measured against figures derived from the federal poverty guidelines. Tarrant County typically requires defendants asking for appointed lawyers to bring financial documentation to court (such as W-2s, paystubs, etc.), and then submit to an interview with a financial screener, who will go over that person's finances in detail. For those defendants who are ruled indigent (and think they just got a 'free' lawyer), judges in Tarrant County routinely order defendants to reimburse the county for the fees paid to the attorneys the court assigned to those defendants. The reimbursement orders usually come shortly after the attorneys are appointed. The order to repay the county is a condition of a defendant's bond: this means that if a defendant misses a payment, the judge may order the defendant back to jail. There really is no 'free ride.'
Anyone accused of a felony or misdemeanor crime or under investigation for violating the law is facing choices with life-changing consequences. Everyone in this situation needs their cases carefully reviewed by qualified legal counsel, not rushed to court; and left later with life damaging consequences. People accused of crimes should contact a qualified attorney's office as soon as possible. Don't go to court hoping things go well. Have a plan prepared and executed by a criminal law specialist. For more information about hiring an attorney, and why you should contact Ball & Hase, click here.