The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel in criminal cases. As a result, the government provides attorneys for those who cannot afford them. In Ramsey County, some judges utilize the public defender’s office in these situations, and some judges appoint individual attorneys on individual cases. The processes are basically the same.
For the most part, public attorneys are just as competent as private attorneys. Yes, their caseloads may be a bit higher than the 150 felonies per year which the American Bar Association recommends. But the alarmingly-high numbers that some media outlets report are usually just horror stories based on anecdotal evidence.
Understand that these “free” lawyers are usually not free. Ramsey County judges usually add attorneys’ fees to the court costs which defendants must normally pay. More importantly, if the defendant is out on bail, a public attorney may be unavailable. Some judges assume, rightly or wrongly, that if the defendant can afford bail, the defendant can hire a lawyer.
So, in most cases, the defendant has a choice between an independent St. Paul felony attorney and self-representation. That decision is a no-brainer. But how do you select the right lawyer?
There really is no substitute for experience. Your felony case is no time for on-the-job training. But years of experience alone may not be an effective measuring stick. Ramsey County criminal defendants need legal advocates with substantial criminal law experience.
The late Grant Cooper represented alleged Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan in 1968. Cooper was an accomplished attorney who was president of the American College of Trial Lawyers in the early 1960s. But he was not really a criminal lawyer. Instead, Cooper was a celebrity lawyer. For example, he represented Shirley Temple in her divorce from John Wayne sidekick and B-movie stalwart John Agar.
As a result, Cooper did not aggressively challenge some of the state’s evidence in that case, such as the discrepancy between the autopsy report and eyewitness statements. If he had been more assertive, Sirhan might not be in prison today, fifty years after the fact.
So, do not just look at the years of experience that a St. Paul felony attorney posts on a website. Ask how many criminal cases the attorney has handled.
The experience factor affects this next inquiry as well. Not to dogpile on Cooper, but many divorce and other attorneys are in the profession largely for the money. St. Paul felony attorneys, on the other hand, are committed to upholding individual rights and stopping government overreaches. That’s the kind of fighter you want in your corner.
That being said, diversity is usually a good thing. You do not want an attorney who is a one-trick pony or who only thinks in one dimension. If the attorney practices in other areas as well, that is normally a good sign. At the very least, a St. Paul felony attorney should focus on more than one type of criminal law. The lawyer should not just handle DWIs.
A website often tells a lot. Look at the practice areas page. If criminal defense is buried far down on the list after other areas of law, this part of the law may be more of a sideshow.
Do not underestimate this factor. Most public assistance lawyers only work out of the downtown courthouse and rarely have office hours. So, the only time you may see your St. Paul felony attorney is immediately before and immediately after court hearings.
A private attorney, on the other hand, should have an office near your home or workplace. Your lawyer should also have office hours, so you can have private meetings.
We listed this factor last for two reasons. First, price should not be your only consideration. Your liberty and your future are at stake. Second, most St. Paul felony attorneys charge roughly the same fees. Legally, Minnesota lawyers must set prices based on common factors, such as years of experience, the novelty of the case, and the amount of time the case will require.
Nevertheless, price should be a factor. If the attorney charges substantially less than you expected, there may be a reason the lawyer is so inexpensive. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if the attorney charges substantially more than his or her peers, the additional investment may not be worthwhile.
Choosing the right advocate for your criminal case could be one of the most important decisions in your life. For a free consultation with an experienced St. Paul felony attorney, contact Capitol City Law Group, LLC. Go online now, call us at (651) 998-7634, or stop by 287 6th St E, Suite 20, St Paul, MN 55101.