It often happens, when you’re talking to a specialist such as a doctor or a lawyer, that you’ll understand things during the conversation, but the next day it doesn’t all quite make sense anymore or perhaps some of the details are missing. So, take notes when you’re meeting with your lawyer and, at the end, go back over the key points with her. (This is also useful feedback for lawyers, because it tells them whether they’re communicating clearly.)
The following are questions that may be relevant during your initial meetings with a criminal defense attorney.
• What are the charges against me at this point? Is the
prosecutor likely to change the charges?
• What’s the maximum sentence I’m facing (the worst
case scenario)? What would be the average sentence
for someone who went to trial and were convicted on
these charges? I might choose to plead guilty, instead
of going to trial, in exchange for lesser charges and/or
a smaller punishment. Has the prosecutor offered a
plea bargain? If there hasn’t been an offer yet, what
sort of plea bargain do think you I’m likely to get?
• Who is my judge and what can we expect from him or
her? Are we going to have this judge for the whole case,
or will we switch judges at some point?1
• Are there co-defendants in my case? If so, who are they?
Would it better if my case were separated from theirs,
and is that possible?
• Which elements of each charge do you think would be
hard for the prosecutor to prove and why?
• Besides attacking the elements of the charges, what are
some of the other defenses available to me? Are any of
them contradictory, so that we have to choose some and
give up others? At what point will we need to make a
decision about this?
• What items of potential evidence are you asking the
prosecution to give us, as part of the “discovery process?”
• What kinds of potential evidence does the defense need
to locate? How can my friends and I help with the
• Whom are you thinking of calling as witnesses? I may be
able to remember witnesses to the incident who would be
helpful. And I may be able to find character witnesses for
myself. How can I best help?
• What kinds of exhibits will we need in court? Photos, maps,
diagrams? Is there anything my friends and I can do to help?
• What motions2 have you made so far? What motions are
you planning to make? Has the prosecutor made any
motions? Has the judge ruled on any of the motions yet?
• Have any dates been set for filing or arguing [more] motions?
How do I get copies of written motions in my case? Which
motions do you think will be granted?
• At a maximum, if I want to be very involved in my case, what
are the best ways for me to contact you and how often do you
prefer to be contacted?
• If I want to look at some of the potential evidence in my case,
such as police reports, when would be a good time?
• At a minimum, when do I have to be in town and in court?
• Is there anything else I should know about my case?
(And remember to say: “Thank you for all the work you’re doing!”)
1. In some court systems, you have the same judge from your very first appearance all the way through. In other court systems, you have separate judges for different stages of the case (an arraignment judge, a motions judge, a trial judge, etc.) It may also be possible to "challenge" the judge, that is, get a different judge for your particular case.
2. Motions are requests to the judge, backed up by a discussion of points of law and the facts of the case. Motions can be oral or written. They often concern the evidence, witnesses or arguments to be used at trial.
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©2007 Katya Komisaruk
Republished by permission from the Just Cause Law Collective