Do I Even Need a Criminal Lawyer for a Misdemeanor?

Good question. Let’s start off by telling you that there is a process called arraignment which sometimes decides any number of such lower-level arrests. In states with large metropolitan areas (like New York, where it’s the current administration’s policy to continue to keep “New York City one of the safest big cities in the world”…a comment by the mayor’s office in 2014), there may be literally close to a thousand misdemeanor-related arrests per day.

A few years ago, Newsweek published a report in which, during a nine-month period, well over 600 misdemeanor arrests were logged in the New York area. Another figure showed that around 230,000 misdemeanor arrest dispositions occurred annually (from 2009 to 2013).

It’s been reported that about 10% of those charged do jail time, and that the remainder—a whopping 90% of those cases—walk out of the courtroom due to being sentenced to time served; to prosecutors deciding not to follow up on the charges, or simply because the judge dismisses the case.

Personal Attorneys Might Help

However, for those 10% that remain, a personal or private attorney might make a world of difference, both in the short-term and in the long-term.

Here’s why:

Felony cases are almost never resolved at arraignment, but around 60% or so of misdemeanor cases are resolved at this point, as per a New York lawyer’s page:

And that arraignment resolution doesn’t just happen automatically. Remember, first of all, that whatever is decided at arraignment can’t be undone. So you can’t go back and ask for a “do over”.

If you show up by yourself, or with a Legal Aid lawyer, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you, or your Legal Aid lawyer, will have the sort of experience or training (or the time for the detailed follow-up) which will help you weigh your options.

We’re not saying that Legal Aid lawyers aren’t extremely competent, but it would definitely open up the playing field a little if your hand-picked attorney was able to thoroughly examine all the options with you; represent your interests with the zeal of someone who’s truly in your corner, and, because he or she knows the intricacies of your case, advocate for you.

Another plus: your attorney will likely anticipate what is going to be offered to you at arraignment. This will help you be better prepared for the outcome.

A Criminal Record?

Perhaps a Public Defender would accept a fine on your behalf and you’d be relieved to realize that you weren’t going to be incarcerated. And that’s all well and good. However, there’s a possibility that you will then have a criminal record.

A fine is as much a punishment as a jail sentence is—it’s just a different type of penalty. And you are, of course, admitting guilt.

Would a personal attorney have done something entirely different? Depending on the case, yes!
When you consult with an attorney who has been appointed for you, you might not be able to run every single one of your questions by him or her—and there will be many—quite as meticulously as you will be able to do when you are consulting with the attorney whom you are paying to be standing beside you.

Future Concerns

For instance, there are future concerns which you will need your attorney to help you with. Ideally, you should be able to depend on your lawyer to make sure that you will not jeopardize your job, or negatively impact your immigration status (if you are seeking to make the U.S. your permanent home).

Too, you will want to know that there won’t be impediments to taking out a loan at some point in the future.

The same applies to your ability to take out a driver’s license, or to qualify for federal aid (in some sectors). You will want to know that the resolution at your arraignment did not impact these areas in such a way that you will run into roadblocks when it comes to renewing your license or applying for whatever benefits you would wish to qualify for.

These are all things which your private attorney would be able to address. Of course, it is up to you to express to him or to her your specialized, unique concerns.

On Your Own? You Might Miss Out

And what happens if you decide to “wing it” and face the arraignment without a private lawyer, only to have missed out on the best possible resolution to your case?

How will you KNOW whether it’s the very best you could hope for, all things considered?

You won’t…but an expert in the field, highly trained and desirous of having you walk out of the courtroom with the most desirable offer, will.

Remember: if you think you’ve made a mistake after the arraignment, and wish to hire a personal lawyer afterwards, there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’ll receive the same offer again.

The Cost

If you’re stopped in your tracks by the idea of the potential cost to hire a personal attorney to represent you at arraignment for a misdemeanor, it might help you to know that, as there is not a great deal of work involved in getting the case resolved at arraignment, and as lawyers usually charge by workload (per billable hour), the total fee might turn out to be quite economical.

Exceptions apply: weekend courts or even night courts bring with them increased charges. And if you’d like to go further than arraignment, to trial, to clear your name, there will be more paperwork and man/woman hours involved.

Lastly, the process will go a little smoother and a lot faster with a personal attorney, since there’s a one-client-one-case representation, whereas a lawyer who is working pro bono will have many clients to interview and many files to review.

There are cases where working with public defenders would work out just fine, but, all in all, you’ll find that a private attorney—if you decide it’s for you—can help you put all your ducks in a row, short-term, and perhaps run interference for you in the long-term.

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