If you cannot afford a lawyer, you are entitled to have the Court appoint a lawyer to represent you in any criminal proceeding where the Court may incarcerated you. A appointed lawyer does not necessarily mean a free lawyer – the Court, more often than not, orders the Defendant to reimburse the jurisdiction for court appointed attorney fees. The fee may be hundreds to thousands of dollars depending upon the amount of work the attorney performs. Sometimes you truly get what you pay for. By requesting a court appointed attorney, you lose the choice to hire who you want to represent you.
There is a chance that luck will be on your side, and the attorney you receive will be a dedicated advocate on your behalf. There is also the risk, however, that the court appointed attorney may be inexperienced, ill prepared, overworked, and/or apathetic.
Many counties in Michigan do not pay (or pay a minimal amount) for the court appointed attorney to file and argue motions (things like Motions to Quash, Motions to suppress evidence, Motions to reduce and/or modify bond), which sometimes reduces the likelihood that such a motion will even be filed. Some (not all) court appointed attorneys will not file these motions on your behalf because they do not get paid to do so. Some Courts pay public defenders less than a couple hundred dollars to conduct a trial, which reduces the time that the attorney may dedicate to prepare for the trial. The court appointed attorney also may be reluctant to conduct a trial, because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that the Judge who assigned the case to them will not continue to do so if trials are the result. If you are incarcerated, it is often difficult for you to maintain regular contact with your lawyer if they are court appointed. Some Courts either do not pay for jail visits, or limit the number of jail visits that the court appointed attorney can bill for. Unfortunately, good results are often the product of effective, fearless, and dilligent preparation.
News reports ranked Michigan near the bottom of the nation in terms of the quality of court appointed legal representation. Those reports have now largely become forgotten and ignored, because the state cannot afford to pay court appointed attorneys what they deserve in terms of the work which they perform in this economic environment anyways. Providing money to defend people is never popular politically, and the court appointed attorney system is probably still near the bottom of the list in terms of receiving additional funding.
The only real solution is to retain an experienced, dedicated lawyer to represent you.
Why else? When you weigh this against the resources of the state, there is a realization as to the uphill battle a Defendant may have. The Prosecutors office has multiple trained attorneys, police officers who can provide additional information at the direction of the Prosecutor, investigators to serve subpoenas and conduct interviews of witnesses, expert witnesses in many scientific areas, access to technology to present their case at trial (such as powerpoint presentations; in car videos and recordings, etc.). When you couple this with the quality of representation that you may receive if you accept any legal representation – this could be recipe for disaster. When you factor in the unbalanced, blind pro law enforcement attitudes in some conservative communities (and the jurors that those communities produce) the personal disaster you are facing becomes clear.
By hiring a attorney – it is not a magic wand to create a good result. Hiring a attorney is like hiring many other types of professional. For example, many of us have hired different contractors to fix our houses. Sometimes the person is great, and there are no complaints, and you think to yourself that whenever there is a problem this is who I will hire. Sometimes the roof starts leaking again one month later, and the person who did the work is nowhere to be found. Sometimes the house is condemned, and the contractor can improve the house, but there is very little that this contractor (or any contractor) can do to bring the house back to the condition it once was. How skillful and clever your attorney is can often (but not always) make all the difference.
You should ask the following questions to yourself before you hire the attorney:
FIRST: does the advice that I received when speaking with the attorney make sense?
SECOND, does the attorney seem to have a sound strategy behind his/her efforts?.
THIRD, will the attorney make a good effort to prepare the case?. FOURTH, will the attorney return my phone calls and answer my questions?.
FIFTH, is the attorney honest with me, or does he/she tell me only what they think I want to hear?.
SIXTH, what are my realistic expectations of the legal representation and the result that I want to achieve?
SEVENTH, is the attorney who is representing me working dilligently toward what I am trying to achieve?
Many attorneys accept different payment options which may help you to afford the services of retained counsel – credit card payments, payment plans, etc.. You never know what you can work out in terms of legal representation until you speak directly to the attorney of your choice. Again, there are many great court appointed attorneys who provide a great service to their clients and to the United States and Michigan Constitutions. In some instances the court appointed attorney may do a better job than the attorney you decided to hire. If you are happy with your attorney it is your decision to continue with them.
When it comes to your freedom, your reputation, the security of your family, your desire to achieve and maintain a good career, you should take a position to reduce the risks that the things you care about the most will not be damaged or removed. In criminal law – realistically you have 1 chance to get the right result. The chance of reversal on appeal is not high – and the time it takes for a decision on an appeal is often a very lengthy process, which occurs after your life has already been harmed, and your family, friends, employees, and others in the community have suffered because of the sentence imposed. The best you can do is to find the attorney who will do everything in their power to relentlessly advocate on your behalf to obtain a great result. I recommend attorney Daniel Hilf of the law firm Hilf & Hilf, PLC.