A criminal defense attorney serves as your guide, confidant, and protector. Defense attorneys can be grouped into two fields: a court-appointed attorney, paid by the government, and a private attorney paid by the person who hires them. If you can’t afford an attorney (which is not such a rare case; about 80% of criminal defendants can’t), the court will appoint counsel to represent the defendant.
These court-appointed attorneys are public defenders who get government salaries, or they are “panel attorneys” (local attorneys chosen from a panel). There is a small percentage of defendants who represent themselves (so-called “pro se” or “pro per” defendants).
If you have committed a crime and got arrested, it’s important to consult with a New Mexico criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?
Criminal defense attorneys (both private and court-appointed) will research the facts, investigate the case, and try to negotiate deals with their prosecutors. These deals could include reduced charges, reduced sentences, and reduced bail. Numerous factors including political and public pressure, overloaded court calendars, and overcrowded jails, the deal-making become an important element in unclogging the criminal justice system.
Criminal defense attorneys will examine witnesses, help form a plea, analyze the prosecutor’s case, evaluate the potential sentences (and the possibility of a distinct judge awarding such a sentence). Your criminal defense attorney will review search and seizure procedures, question witnesses, and collect evidence.
Costs of Legal Representation
Many defendants are wondering about the costs of such legal representation. The financial part of this is their biggest concern, which is why the majority of the defendants usually can’t afford an attorney. Private criminal defense attorneys will charge on an hourly basis or by a fixed or set fee. They are not allowed to charge contingency fees (the payments that depend on the outcome of the case). If the defendant can’t afford private counsel (indigent), the court may appoint a panel attorney or government-paid public defender.
When an indigent defendant is facing prison or jail time, the judge has the right to offer a government-paid defense counsel. If there is no option for incarceration, the defendant might not be entitled to get a government-paid attorney. Also, if the defendant gets free legal representation, it doesn’t mean they can get an attorney of choice.
Private Attorney vs. Court-Appointed Attorney
Defendants sometimes think that private attorneys have a distinguished advantage over the public defender’s office or panel attorneys. The latter are overworked and are paid a minimum fee. Do private attorneys truly provide a better representation than court-appointed attorneys?
Many private lawyers worked as prosecutors or public defenders in the past. Studies that evaluate the outcomes of hiring a private versus court-appointed attorney indicate that the results for defendants are often the same. Defendants that were represented by private counsel and public defenders did similarly in conviction and sentencing rates (although defendants represented by panel attorneys did worse).
These statistics aren’t always a good indicator, because there are many complicating factors. When a client is represented by a private attorney, they are usually first-time offenders with a clear record. Defenders who often get a public legal representation are often repeated offenders. In the end, what matters is the attorney’s skills, knowledge, experience, and commitment to the case.
Self-Representation (Pro Se)
Although being represented by an attorney is the best option, some defendants decide to go pro se. Self-representation is not a decision made by the defendant, but the final word has the judge. The judge is required to determine if the defendant is competent for this. This is because a defendant who can’t give a competent defense cannot get a fair shake.
When determining if a defendant can represent themselves, the judge will consider factors like the severity of the crime, their education and language skills, if they understand the nature of the proceedings and if the defendant is giving up the right to counsel knowingly.
Contact an Experienced New Mexico Criminal Defense Attorney
If you were recently arrested for a crime (no matter what the crime is) it’s best to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. If this is your first-time offense, it’s advisable that you do this with the help of a legal representative. Our team at FBD Law is here to review your case, advise you and take care of the further steps. Let us do our own investigation, talk to witnesses and talk you through everything that follows.
Call our office today and schedule your first consultation.