FAQ’s From An El Paso Criminal Defense Lawyer
We are often asked by friends and colleagues to describe the principles which guide our criminal defense practice at Aaronson & Norris. We think these principles are the same as those universally accepted by all who devote their legal careers to defending citizens accused by their government of criminal offenses. We want the application of the criminal law to be fair and even-handed. We want the constitutional and statutory rights of our clients to be respected and applied. We want those who are not proven guilty to be acquitted, and those who are proven guilty to be given another chance.
We oppose unnecessarily harsh punishments and advocate for alternatives to imprisonment. But, above all, we commit ourselves to providing the kind of defense we would want for our friends and families if any of them were accused by the government of a criminal offense.
We attempt here to answer some of the questions most often asked by those seeking a criminal defense lawyer. Of course, there are many others. If you are considering Aaronson & Norris for your defense, we encourage you to schedule a free consultation. Use the form on this page or call us at 915.872.9644.
How can I make the best choice of criminal defense representation?
Lawyers doing criminal defense work differ greatly from one another in knowledge and experience. Some are newly licensed and support themselves with court appointments. Others, while they have been in practice for many years, know little about the criminal law and rarely go to trial. If you are charged with a crime, the most important thing to know about your lawyer is that he understands the law, that he can skillfully defend you, that he will commit himself to your defense without qualification, and that he will deal honestly with you at every stage of the criminal proceedings. If, for any reason, you lack confidence that the lawyer you are thinking to hire does not have the knowledge, skill, or loyalty to represent you effectively, you should look elsewhere.
What are the benefits of hiring a criminal defense attorney versus a public defender?
The El Paso County Public Defender=s Office is staffed by fine lawyers who have long experience in the practice of criminal law. We have known many of them for years, and regard them as respected colleagues. The Public Defender=s Office handles about half of the indigent defense in El Paso County. The rest is handled by private practitioners, some of whom are also well qualified, but many of whom lack the experience and understanding to provide the highest level of professional representation in criminal cases. If you apply for a court-appointed lawyer, you will not be given a choice who is appointed by the court to represent you. You will not have an opportunity to interview the attorney before accepting him as your lawyer, and you will not usually be permitted to demand a different appointed attorney if you lose confidence in the one first appointed by the court. For these reasons, it is always best to hire a lawyer of your own choosing whenever you are financially able to do so, even if you must borrow money or call upon friends and family for help. The worst thing you can do is to find out later that your court-appointed lawyer made careless or ignorant mistakes in representing you. Such mistakes are difficult to correct on appeal, and they may adversely affect your life in many ways for years to come.
Can you guarantee me a favorable result?
There are no such guarantees in the criminal justice system, and any attorney who promises a certain outcome at the time he is hired should not be trusted. Of course, like other criminal defense attorneys, we are aware of local eligibility requirements for pretrial diversion programs, legal eligibility prerequisites to probation, and the general attitude of the courts and prosecuting attorneys toward offenses of various kinds as reflected in their policies and practices over time. Consequently, we are able to predict a range of possible negotiated outcomes with a fair degree of reliability in most cases. But even plea bargains with the District Attorney are ultimately subject to approval by the court, and can be rejected if the judge finds the bargain to be disagreeable for any reason. And it should go without saying that no one can assure what verdict a jury will return. What is most important in a criminal defense attorney is someone willing to work hard for the money you pay him, not someone willing to return the money if you’re convicted or punished more harshly than you expect. The only promise you should require from your lawyer, and one you should require from any lawyer you hire to represent you in a criminal case, is that he will bring all of his skill and experience to your defense in an effort to achieve the best possible result.
Do I have a chance of winning my case or should I plea bargain?
Many people charged with a crime wonder whether they can avoid conviction altogether. Others seem to accept the fact that they will be convicted, but hope it will be for something less serious than what they are charged with. Still others only want to get probation or, at least, to avoid a long prison sentence. But the truth is that no one can know what is possible in any case until the facts have been thoroughly investigated by a qualified criminal defense lawyer. And no one charged with a criminal offense should agree to anything less than a complete acquittal until an adequate factual and legal investigation of the case has been made by his lawyer.
Although we recognize at Aaronson & Norris that it is the absolute right of our clients to choose whether they will plead guilty in exchange for probation, a lighter sentence, or a lesser offense, we counsel everyone not to accept any such plea bargain until we have first had a chance to consider every other option which might result in a dismissal of the charges or a finding of not guilty by the judge or a jury. Sometimes, this means that the cost of our services will be a little more than that of some other criminal defense lawyers, but we regard it as irresponsible to support a guilty plea without a sufficient understanding of the case. In the end, many cases can be resolved with a plea bargain after negotiations with the District Attorney. Those which cannot should be resolved in a trial by jury.
How can I tell whether I am charged with misdemeanor or a felony?
In Texas, as elsewhere, criminal offenses are graded by their seriousness. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies. They are punishable by as little as a fine in some cases or with commitment to jail for as much as a year. Felonies, on the other hand, have punishments which can range from commitment to a state jail facility for a few years all the way up to a life of confinement in the Texas prison system, and even the death penalty. It is usually possible to tell from an arrest warrant how serious the charge will be. But Texas penal laws are extraordinarily complicated and overlapping. As a consequence, it is often the case that multiple additional or alternative charges are made after the initial arrest, and it may be difficult to tell from the warrant alone what the grade of offense will be after formal charges are eventually made by the District Attorneys Office or the Grand Jury. An attorney can more easily sort through these difficulties, and advise you how best to proceed, because he will have access to court documents, and eventually also to police reports and other investigative materials, which reveal the details of the charge. Indeed, one of the first things we do after entering an appearance on behalf of our new clients is to request immediate access to all such materials.