Being summoned by the police as an accused in criminal investigations, and/or receiving a notice to attend Court for criminal charges is an experience that no one hopes to have. But on occasion, you or one of your relatives/friends will be in this unpleasant position. What do you do then?
Being under investigation for criminal offences, and having a court case looming over one’s head, will undoubtedly be a trying time for both offenders and their loved ones. Having quality legal representation to guide you on the law as well as your best options is an invaluable asset. Amidst the oversupply of criminal lawyers in Singapore these days, how do you assess who would be the best fit to work with you on your defence – budget and experience wise?
This article sets out some of the most important areas, in our view, to look out for when hiring a criminal lawyer to defend your case.
In an Internet age where consumers are not limited by ‘word of mouth’ or the information from a firm’s website, persons looking for a lawyer can also make their own independent assessment through a Google search of the lawyer’s name. If the lawyer is specialized in criminal law (as opposed to being one whose core experience is in another area of law but also does criminal cases from time to time), you should be able to find reports of past cases conducted by the lawyer which may assist in forming your opinion.
A criminal lawyer with deep relevant experience in the type of offence(s) for which you have been charged/investigated should be able to explain to you areas such as: the type of evidence the Prosecution will typically rely on in such cases, the possible defences that may succeed based on the evidence in your specific case and the range of sentences that are typically imposed or which may be expected.
That said, every case is different, and defence strategies that worked well in another case under the same offence section need not succeed in another.
Assessment of your case
It is important to understand that a case is only as good as its evidence. Do not jump into selecting the lawyer who only tells you what you want to hear – for example, promising you an acquittal on the charges or that he/she will be able to persuade the authorities to ‘drop’ (ie. withdraw) the charges/investigations.
Look for a lawyer who is able to offer you a reasoned basis for his/her assessment of your case, and what are the possible outcomes based on the evidence available to you; be as honest as you can with him/her, as this will help you both decide on the best course of action to pursue.
Trial cases will generally cost much more than ‘plead guilty’ cases, as your lawyer will need to charge you for the time spent: i) conducting the hearing itself (usually number of hours multiplied by hourly rate of lawyer); ii) perusal of available documents from the Prosecution (eg. Criminal Case Disclosure Conference (CCDC) materials which may include your long statements given to the police); as well as iii) all other preparation such as interview of relevant witnesses and legal research.
While it is every person’s right to claim trial, do not claim trial for the sake of ‘trying your luck’ or because you are insistent that you have done no wrong. While the Prosecution does not need to give reasons why it has decided to prosecute or not prosecute in any particular case, usually charges are preferred when there is a reasonable prospect of success at trial: this means that on an assessment of all the evidence available (eg. not just your version of events given to the police, but also that of the complainant/victim, any independent witnesses, objective evidence such as CCTV), it will be able to prove your guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”.
Discuss with your prospective lawyer what basis you may have for casting “doubts” on the Prosecution’s case, as doubts that may warrant an acquittal after trial have to be “reasonable” and not merely “fanciful”.
Discussion on fees
Law firms generally charge by the hour, though it is not uncommon for lawyers to offer capped fee ranges. The fee estimate provided by the lawyer during your initial consultation should be able to be supported by a brief outline of the legal work that he/she intends to carry out for your case.
For example, if you intend to plead guilty, the work done will typically cover: a) attendance in Court for mentions; b) writing at least one set of representations to the Attorney-General’s Chambers and/or enforcement agency on the charges you face; c) where necessary, conducting a Criminal Case Management System (CCMS) meeting with the Prosecution to understand on a ‘without prejudice’ basis the evidence for or against you which may not be apparent from court documents; d) preparing mitigation plea to submit for the most appropriate sentence on the facts and circumstances of your case.
While the lowest legal fee package on offer may seem attractive, where possible check with the firm how much personal attention will be spent by the lawyer on your individual case, and what areas might be covered by a paralegal or legal secretary.
Other than the above, it is also important to find a lawyer whom you can build a rapport with – after all, you and your lawyer will be working closely together on your defence for at least as few months (in plead guilty cases) or even close to a year (for more contentious cases including trials). This process will often be harrowing at times, and your choice of lawyer will often be the person you turn to not just for legal advice but also a source of support.
All the above criteria for hiring a suitable criminal lawyer for your defence can best be assessed through an initial consultation. Our criminal lawyer team offers a short complimentary first consultation, either in person or over the telephone, for you to better understand your options. Contact one of our defence team for legal advice on your criminal case today.