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Criminal Law Archives

Bridge To The 21st Century

FAMILY LAW, CIVIL LAW, CUSTODY, DIVORCE, CRIMINAL LAW, REAL ESTATE LAW. Those of you who remember the 90s probably remember this slogan, used by another Clinton running for president. Bill Clinton said that he would build a bridge to the 21st Century during the 1996 re-election campaign. Now that we are in that century, in many ways the bridge has been built, almost everyone is online, and connected to the world via their cell phones. Almost every aspect of our work and personal life have changed. Unfortunately, in many ways the Minnesota Courts have not made it into the 21st Century, they seem to have missed the turn for the bridge. The Courthouse in Brainerd does not allow anyone, except attorneys to bring computers or mobile phones into the court. Parties to cases, and witnesses are often in the building for hours waiting for their case to be called, or to testify. They are not able to get work done, or even communicate with their employer during this time. The Court System needs to treat people better than this, and take that bridge to the 21st Century. 

Your Lawyer's Toughest Job

Telling a client what they do not want to hear is probably the toughest job of a good lawyer, but also the most important. The only way a client can make good decisions is to have good information. If the client is not told that they are pushing for something that they cannot get, they will waste time and money, and may lose the chance of getting some of what they want. Taking a position that is not attainable can backfire, alienating the judge, or making it impossible to get an agreement which lets you get some of what you want. If your lawyer always tells you what you want to hear, they are probably not doing their job, unless you have a very easy case. 

I Found Out On The Internet

I cannot tell you how many times someone tells me they learned something about the law on the internet. Don't get me wrong, the internet is the greatest tool for learning ever invented. Your computer has access to more information than all of the world's libraries put together. The problem, information does not equal knowledge. Seeing parts of the law online does not mean that you know how it works and how to use it, any more than my reading online about auto repair, or medicine makes me a mechanic or a doctor. I have seen dozens of cases where someone filed papers, went into court, or made a key legal decision relying on information they had seen online that was not correct for their situation. The results were always bad, sometimes disastrous. The bottom line is: If the stakes are high, do not rely on your computer as there won't be anyone there helping you through the problems this will create. 

You Get What You Pay For

You get what you pay for; It is an old saying but still true. Sometimes inexpensive means a bargain, and sometimes is just means cheap. I have written before about clients paying too much for some criminal defense attorneys. These are usually the ones who bill themselves as metro hotshots with fancy cars, slick offices, custom tailored suits. They spend a lot of money maintaining an image, and pass the costs on to their clients. One can also go too far in the other direction. Some of the fees I hear quoted for criminal work are amazingly low, so low that the attorneys involved are either losing money on them, or are doing almost no work for their clients. Handling a criminal case is not just a quick meeting with the prosecutor and striking a deal. While most cases settle based on an agreement, there is a huge amount of work that goes into getting a good deal for your client. Information is obtained from the prosecution, reviewed, discussed with the client, legal issues are researched, in some cases independent investigations are conducted. In many cases pre-trial motions are filed and argued, pre-trial motion work can take months and involve multiple hearings. If an attorney is willing to take on criminal work at a loss, more power to them. In most cases, low fees mean the attorney is not planning to put much into the case. If all you can afford is a low fee, that is better than nothing. Even a misdemeanor criminal case, if handled the wrong way can have long term negative consequences. If you are dealing with a felony the wrong move can send you to prison. If you do go low budget make sure to bank the money you save, there is a good chance you will need it for your prison commissary account, phone cards and snacks get expensive.

Know your rights!

A line from a 70s punk song, and considered by most to be good advice. The problem, most people do not know their rights as well as they think they do. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me that they thought police had to read them rights when they are arrested. The Miranda advisory, known to all T.V. cop show watchers, only has to be read when a suspect is being held in custody, AND police want to ask the suspect questions to get a statement that they can use against the suspect in court. If the police will not be questioning the suspect they do not have to read the rights. If a suspect is not being held in custody police can ask them questions without reading rights. This means that police can question you and use what you say against you without reading rights as long as you are free to go, even if you are in a police station, or in a police car unrestrained. Even if you are restrained, if you start talking on your own without them questioning you they can use what you say against you. Bottom line, you have rights, but knowing them is not as simple as most people think. If you are in a situation where you are, or may be questioned by police you need to get good advice before you start talking. If not, you may find out the hard way that you did not know your rights as well as you thought, and you may be singing the lyrics of another classic song, 'I fought the law and the law won'.

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