“I never thought I’d be facing charges like this”… That’s a comment our clients often make! That’s why we always recommend that they take the time to choose their criminal lawyer carefully.
Since few people expect to face criminal charges in their lifetime, it is normal to be confused when faced with them. Once the shock of the charges has worn off, you need to act quickly and find a criminal lawyer… But how do you do that? Where do you start? In this article, the Morasse Avocats team will try to summarize the factors to consider when choosing a criminal lawyer who is willing to meet your needs.
1 Criminal law… the criminal lawyer’s expertise
Just as a criminal lawyer should not improvise himself as a civil lawyer, we believe that a lawyer working in civil law should avoid venturing into the field of criminal law. In our humble opinion, it is essential to mandate a lawyer who works mainly in criminal law to deal with charges of this nature. Indeed, the stakes are too high; it is your freedom and your fulfillment in many areas of your life that are at stake… It is therefore better to deal with an expert in the field.
This is especially true since criminal law is constantly evolving, which makes it a complex field. You don’t want your lawyer to be unaware, for example, that there is now a minimum sentence of imprisonment for the offence you are facing!
2 The type of offence involved
Not all cases are equally complex. In addition, depending on the type of offence, the Criminal Code may provide for specific rules of evidence and procedure. Before hiring a lawyer, it is important to ensure that he or she is familiar with the law applicable to a given offence, and that he or she is experienced in the matter.
For example, in matters of sexual offences, the law places significant restrictions on how the alleged victim may be cross-examined or confidential documents obtained.
Similarly, not all criminal lawyers have the particular skills required to defend large-scale economic crimes.
Finally, a minority of defence lawyers conduct jury trials.
Do not hesitate to inquire in detail about the particular experience of the lawyer you are considering!
3 Eligibility for legal aid
If you are a low-income person, you may be eligible for legal aid. You still have a choice of lawyer, and are not obliged to retain a permanent lawyer from your local Legal Aid office. In fact, you can always hire a lawyer in private practice, provided that he or she agrees to represent you at the rates provided. This is an important discussion to have with your prospective lawyer!
4 The prosecution district
Not all criminal lawyers travel to every district in Quebec, for obvious logistical reasons. Therefore, make sure you choose a lawyer who works in the area where you are charged, or at least who agrees to travel there.
It can be very advantageous to hire a lawyer who does frequent business in a particular district, as he or she will likely have good connections with the Crown attorneys and judges who are on duty there. He or she will also be familiar with the particular practices of the district in question. Indeed, each courthouse in Quebec has its own particular practices…
5 The budget… and the risk involved!
Before contacting a defence lawyer whose services you are interested in, it may be useful to determine your budget. Indeed, many lawyers practicing in this field prefer lump sum agreements.
Of course, since charges often come unexpectedly, few people have the benefit of having saved up for their defense… However, although the services of a lawyer may seem expensive at first glance, it is important to make a cost/benefit calculation… If you don’t get a quality defense, what are the risks involved? A loss of employment? A period of detention? The loss of a driver’s license? The acquisition of a criminal record? A substantial increase in your insurance premiums for several years? This is an anxiety-provoking but essential thought to have.