When Should I Hire A Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Everyone at some point in their lives has a run-in with the law.  It might be a simple traffic ticket or possibly a more serious charge, but nonetheless, you’re facing charges that you have to deal with in court.  When that happens the obvious question that comes to mind is “Should I hire a criminal defense lawyer to help me fight these charges?” This is a crucial step in most criminal defense cases and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Because the answer to that question might be the difference in whether you go to jail or not, or whether you pay higher court costs and fines or not. In fact, we would argue that the decision to hire a criminal defense lawyer might be one of the most important decisions you make in your life, especially if you’re facing serious charges.  For simple traffic tickets, a lawyer can help you by avoiding points on your license and ultimately higher insurance costs in the future.

But why is this the case? Well, it’s no secret that the entire US legal system is designed around a unique and somewhat complex legal process.  What’s great about our country is that as a defendant you have rights and more specifically the right to “procedural due process”. This is protected under the 14th amendment in the Constitution, and it typically refers to the following 10 principals that are required for “judicial fairness” in your case:

  1. An unbiased tribunal.
  2. Notice of the proposed action and the grounds asserted for it.
  3. The opportunity to present reasons for the proposed action not to be taken.
  4. The right to present evidence, including the right to call witnesses.
  5. The right to know the opposing evidence.
  6. The right to cross-examine adverse witnesses.
  7. A decision based only on the evidence presented.
  8. Opportunity to be represented by counsel.
  9. The tribunal to prepare a record of the evidence presented.
  10. The tribunal to prepare written findings of fact and the reasons for its decision.

Number 8 in that list says you have the “opportunity” to be represented by counsel, and that’s an opportunity you don’t want to pass up. Good counsel can help you navigate the legal process and more importantly help you to understand your rights and protections under the law.  And there are other benefits to hiring your own criminal defense attorney. We’ve compiled a list of 5 reasons why hiring a lawyer is in your best interest. Here’s the list:

  1. Legal Strategy – A legal strategy is a crucial component in a criminal defense case.  To get from point A to point B a good criminal defense attorney will assess all the components of the case and create a strategy that produces the outcomes you expect at the end of the case.  That includes evaluating all the evidence the prosecutor has, where the case is being processed, the defendant’s criminal history, and other variables like the judges and the prosecutors. A good legal strategy can make a big difference in any case.
  2. Legal Knowledge – A good criminal lawyer knows the law inside and out.  They have the experience and education that allows them to find loopholes or opportunities in the law that could help you in your case.  They know how the courts work and how to make the legal process work for you. They know the prosecutors and the judges well and know how to communicate and negotiate on your behalf.  Going into court on your own is a bad idea because you’ll get lost in the procedural aspects of most courthouses.
  3. Minimizing Your Fines and Punishment – Most cases end when the prosecutors offer a plea deal and that typically includes fines and punishment.  Having a criminal defense lawyer on your side will help with negotiating the terms of your plea arrangement. Most prosecutors are willing to listen to another lawyer about your case and work with that lawyer on a fair set of terms to your deal.  Without one, you will likely get the standard set of fines and jail time and is most cases the fines are heavy and jail time is long.
  4. Protection From Law Enforcement – Are the police harassing you constantly?  Are they asking questions that you don’t want to answer? A criminal defense attorney can help you deal with cops that are trying to jam you up.  Having this barrier can sometimes help you avoid incriminating yourself on another charge. You might think that by answering the questions you will get some leniency on the charges your facing, but that’s not always the case.
  5. Access To Resources and InformationCriminal lawyers know where to go to get the necessary information or resources to successfully defend you in a criminal case.  Some cases might require a private investigator or expert witnesses. Other cases might just require access to the police report and witness statements filed in your case.  Lawyers have the ability to find the information or the resources and put them to work for you.

So that’s the list of 5 reasons or benefits to hiring a good criminal defense lawyer.  Think about these benefits when you’re considering whether to hire a lawyer or not.

The Public Defender Option

Some of you with more serious crimes that are not being filed in municipal courts, but instead being filed in state court will have the option to apply for a public defender.  One big myth about public defenders is that they are free. In Missouri, you have to reimburse the public defender that’s assigned to your case and fees are based on a fee schedule that can be found here.  You also have to apply for a public defender and there is no guarantee that you will be accepted. It’s typically based on your income and your current living standard. If you are wealthy or even have a moderate income you may as well forget about it.  If you’re homeless and have no money then the public defender may be a good option for you.

Quite frankly, unless you are homeless and have no money, a Public Defender is a bad option for you anyways.  Public Defenders are overworked and underpaid, and the result is that they don’t put everything they have into the cases they fight.  It’s not that they are bad lawyers, because some of them can provide good counsel to a defendant. The issue is that you’re just a number to them and ultimately they aren’t invested in your particular situation.  Whereas a hired criminal defense lawyer is concerned about client satisfaction and will go the extra mile for you.


Hopefully, by now you’re seeing the benefits that come with hiring a good criminal defense lawyer.  The keyword being “good”. Yes, hiring a criminal defense lawyer is the best option for you when fighting your charges, but hiring just any lawyer isn’t the right thing to do either.  You have to take some time to interview several lawyers that have good reputations in the St. Louis area. You can check out their reviews on Google, Yelp, or Facebook to see what others are saying about their experiences with the firms on your shortlist.  

Don’t make the mistake of going the cheap route because ultimately you will get what you paid for.  But also don’t think that by overpaying for a lawyer you will be able to buy your way out trouble. Be realistic about your expectations and communicate them to the lawyers during the interview process.  Then let them provide you with some details about whether those outcomes are possible and how they plan on attaining them. Don’t walk away from a lawyer who doesn’t sugar coat everything for you. You may want to hear that everything is going to okay, but in some cases, it might not be.  A good criminal defense lawyer will provide you with their honest assessment of your case and what they think they can do to help you. If a lawyer comes out right away and claims that they can get you out of trouble and all you have to do is pay them “X” amount, you should probably get up and walk out right away.  What you will want is a lawyer who will temper the expectations, and ultimately over deliver at the end of it all. Finally, write down a set of criteria that need to be met and look for those specific criteria when interviewing lawyers.

Combs Waterkotte welcomes you to contact us or call us at (314) 900-HELP today for a free consultation on your case.  We look forward to your call and we’re willing to answer any questions you have about how we work with your clients.