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The first step in figuring out how to defend yourself or a family member against a federal criminal indictment is to locate and retain a quality attorney.

How to Find A Criminal Defense Attorney

The first step in figuring out how to defend yourself or a family member against a federal criminal indictment is to locate and retain a quality attorney who specializes in federal criminal defense. This is most certainly not an easy task, and one which comes at an often frantic time (e.g., during or directly after arrest). Here, we strive to answer as many of your immediate questions as possible, along with provide intuitive advise on how to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of a criminal defense attorney in short order.

Finding an attorney

Finding a quality federal criminal defense attorney can be difficult, especially when time is of the essence. The best option is usually to speak with a criminal defense attorney in the area — ideally one that you know and trust — and ask them for a referral. Specifically, this referral should be to a federal criminal defense attorney in the area who specializes in the type of case at hand.

If you don’t know any attorneys, it can be smart to look for best rated attorneys online. Here are a few good attorney databases to start your search:

A call to the local federal public defender’s office can also result in quality referrals. Even a simple Google search for an attorney can open up some leads.

How to choose an attorney

When looking at an attorney’s website you should look for the following criteria:

  1. What areas they specialize in (e.g., drug conspiracy, child pornography, wire fraud, etc.)
  2. Where they received their law degree from (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc.)
  3. If they have held any positions of particular importance in relevant organizations (e.g., the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, are a former Assistant United States Attorney, etc.)

Quality is hard to evaluate because most lawyers are professional and, as such, most look the part. The easiest way to determine quality is to see how long they have been in practice, where they received their law degree, and any impressive professional affiliations or published works. In most cases, a referral from a peer is often the best answer. ZPR has a list of recommended attorneys to choose from that we trust.

Listing the top federal criminal defense attorneys in the United States is subjective. In the United States you have good local, regional, and national attorneys. This isn’t so much about their practice area, but of how well they are known and how successful they are. For example, David Belser, who practices out of Asheville, North Carolina, is a very good regional acknowledged attorney in the greater North Carolina area. At the national level, though, Alan Ellis (California), Todd Bussert (Connecticut), Marsha Shein (Georgia), and Jeremy Gordon (Texas) tend to be the best around.

How much does an attorney cost?

The amount charged by federal criminal defense attorneys is a bit subjective. Generally speaking, federal criminal defense attorneys charge more than state criminal defense attorneys. This is due to a number of factors, including the complexity and harsh penalties involved in federal criminal law. Understanding that different attorneys charge different rates, you should anticipate spending anywhere from $40,000 upwards to over $100,000 for a quality federal criminal defense attorney.

About appointed attorneys

Unlike state public defense systems, the federal public defense system has enough funding to attract quality public defenders. In fact, some of the research has shown that appointed counsel in federal cases actually does just as well as retained counsel, at least at the median levels of representation. If you lack enough money to retain a quality attorney, the federal government will appoint one to represent you at no cost. While there are lots of bad things said about such appointed counsel, at the federal level, federal public defenders are quality legal practitioners with a significant amount of experience under their belts. Due to receiving the most repetitions, they often are some of the most skilled in the field.

What are the chances I’ll win my case?

Results will depend on the case in question. Once the United State’s Attorney’s Office secures a federal indictment, the case probably won’t go away. Most federal defendants end up electing to plea bargain as opposed to go to trial. Most who go to trial will be found guilty. Either way you slice it, due to the draconian federal sentencing guidelines and the almost unlimited resources of federal law enforcement, most people who are charged with a federal crime will be sentenced to a term of federal incarceration.

While a federal criminal defense attorney can handle most of your needs, it can sometimes be helpful to bring on experts, especially at the points of trial and sentencing. At trial the attorney will locate reliable experts to help with specialized issues (e.g., computer forensics, firearm experts, forensic accountants, etc.). Unlike at trial, it can sometimes be helpful to suggest to your attorney to bring on a sentencing expert. This is because most federal criminal defense attorneys handle this themselves and don’t realize that experts are available. Alan Ellis is one such federal sentencing expert, along with a noted federal criminal defense attorney, who has had a lot of success in this arena.

Contact us for more information or guidance on finding a high quality criminal defense attorney.

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