How to Choose an Attorney When You Are Accused of a Sex Crime
For someone charged with a sex crime, choosing an attorney to represent them is a difficult experience. You often have to make your choice quickly, as once the criminal process starts, it doesn’t slow down to allow you to make a considered decision. Many criminal sexual conduct offenses carry significant penalties, both in prison time and in lifelong consequences such as sex offender registry and electronic monitoring.
Choosing an attorney in a case like this can drastically impact the outcome of the case, as well as your personal experience in navigating the process. The following are some factors that may help guide you in your decision about which lawyer is right for you and your case.
- Trial Experience. Any attorney who you are considering to hire should have extensive experience trying cases to juries – and not just any cases – they should have extensive experience trying criminal sexual conduct cases to juries. This benefits you in multiple ways. First, when a jury trial becomes necessary in your case, which is not uncommon in criminal sexual conduct cases, you can be assured that your attorney will be comfortable and prepared in the courtroom. Second, prosecutors know which defense lawyers will actually take their cases to trial – and which ones won’t. If you hire a lawyer who is hesitant to take cases to trial, and always pleads their clients, prosecutors will have no motivation to make a deal or dismiss your case.
- Expert Experience. Most criminal sexual conduct cases, if handled correctly, involve the use of experts. In cases involving trials, there may be disputes over things like DNA that require scientific expertise, or you may be dealing with an accuser who has mental health issues, where the assistance of a forensic psychologist may be beneficial. In cases involving children, your attorney needs to have significant experience with the forensic interview protocol, the method used to interview children who make allegations of abuse, as well as knowledge about how to present expert testimony attacking the failure of the government to follow the protocol. In cases involving a plea, use of experts to present mitigating psychological evidence and sex offender risk can be critical in gaining the best result possible at sentencing.
- Investigative Experience. Your attorney needs to know your case inside and out, and not just the information provided to them by the prosecution. The key to winning your case is your attorney’s ability to convey YOUR story to a jury – not just answer or contest the government’s version. In order to do that, your attorney needs to be able to look beyond the information provided to them by the prosecutor, and seek out information on your behalf that will help you win your case. Their ability to find witnesses, documents, or other information that will help you present your story can make or break the case. It’s important that you question any attorney you might hire about what they would do in order to further investigate your version of the case.
- Caseload. In order to successfully represent you, and attorney needs to get to know you. That requires time. An attorney with 50 or more cases or clients simply doesn’t have the time to spend with an individual client in order to fully understand who they are as a person and to adequately prepare their case for a trial. Talk to any potential attorney candidates about how many other cases they have, and what they are able to provide in the way of a time commitment to you. In hiring an attorney, it is important to understand that the cost is likely to impact how much time the lawyer has to work on your case. For example, an attorney who charges you $5,000 for representation on a sex crime case probably can’t afford to spend much more than 20 hours on your case. 20 hours doesn’t cover most trials in sex crime cases, let alone all of the other court hearings, motions, investigation, consultation with experts, and time for preparation. Think about how much time you want your lawyer spending on your case, and be prepared to compensate them accordingly.
- Personality. You and your attorney are going to be a team in fighting against these very serious charges. No matter how good your attorney is, no matter how much experience he or she has, if you don’t like your lawyer, or your lawyer doesn’t like you, you’re not going to get a good outcome, and it’s going to be a stressful process. Find an attorney who meets the qualifications, who you like, and who you feel cares about you. You also want to think about what is necessary, personality-wise, to successfully try your case to a jury. If you’re dealing with accusations from a small child, for example, having a super-aggressive personality might offend jurors. Spend some time talking with your lawyer about how they would approach your case, and about their personality in the courtroom.
The most important thing when charged with a sex crime is that you find a lawyer who is right for you. You need to be comfortable and confident with your choice, so that you can go on to fight for your freedom without the stress of wondering if the person standing by your side is the right person for the job.
If you are charged with a sex crime in Grand Rapids or throughout West Michigan, contact Blanchard Law for a consultation, and we can find out together if we are the right attorneys for your case.