Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Criminal Statute of Limitation Bars Some, But Not All Old Prosecutions in Maine

Maine's Criminal Statute of Limitations is codified at 17-A MRSA section 8. It provides that, normally, prosecutions for felonies must be commenced within six years and prosecution for misdemeanors must be commenced within three years of the offense.

The statute is limitations clock is stopped under certain circumstances. The statute does not run during any time when the defendant is absent from the state of Maine and this can extend the statute of limitations by a maximum of five years. The time also does not run once a prosecution against the defendant for the same crime based on the same conduct is pending in Maine, even if the defendant is not brought before the court until after the time limit has run.

Most importantly, there are two situations in which the statue limitations is never a bar prosecution. That is in the case of murder or most sexual offenses against a victim who is less than 16 years old. These cases can be brought anytime. Sex cases in particular are often prosecuted many years or even decades after the alleged criminal conduct.

Cases brought years after the date of the alleged violation, are very problematic. Witnesses are lost, die, or forget what happened. Defendant's themselves often forget the exact circumstances surrounding the allegations. This makes a very stressful situation more stressful, but it also creates opportunities for defense. It is extremely important to speak with an experienced attorney immediately upon learning that charges are being investigated.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Choosing a Criminal Defense Attorney: 5 Things to Know when Hiring a Lawyer

Saul Goodman is not a real lawyer but his website is, unfortunately, not that unrealistic.

The highest search results are not always the best lawyers

The search result that comes up first might not be the best lawyer for the job. Any of the links shaded in yellow or on the right column of the google results page are paid advertisements. That is not a bad thing but it just means that the result is there, not because it's the the most relevant to your search, but because someone bought the positioning on the page. As you click the results, what do you find? Is it a lot of "I will FIGHT for YOU" or is it actual information that might help you understand your situation? Lawyers think about what goes into a website and the content there is probably an extension of their personality and worldview.

Attorney Referral Services

When you search for a Criminal Defense Lawyer on Google, many of the top search results will look like law firms, but they are not. Sites like "mycriminalattorney.com" are not real law firms but are referral services based thousands of miles away. You contact them, they will charge you a fee and then contact a local attorney to handle your case. If they charge you $3000, the local attorney might get $1000 of that to handle the case. You just paid $2000 for that service to send an email. A website that does not list a local location and phone number is not a local law firm.

Maine has no Public Defender's Office

Other States have a publicly funded office with attorneys who represent defendants that can't afford a lawyer. Maine does not have a such an office but instead has a court appointed attorney system. That means that certain attorneys have agreed to accept criminal cases which the court assigns to them. The state pays the attorney an hourly rate for handling the cases and the client has little or no obligation to reimburse the state for that fee.

A good Court appointed defense attorney can do excellent work for you

Whether you pay out of pocket or get an attorney appointed, a good lawyer is going to do the best job they can for every case they handle. Many of the best criminal defense lawyers do take some court appointed cases. Currently the hourly rate for appointed counsel is $50 and payment caps limit the maximum number of hours that an appointed attorney can bill on most cases.

You should be aware of some issues inherent in the court appointed system:
  1. You don't get to choose your lawyer; the court is supposed to just appoint the next lawyer on the list. While many appointed attorneys do excellent work, some definitely do not.
  2. Many court appointed attorneys do not specialize in criminal defense. While some do, others use court appointed work as a way to supplement a practice which focuses on some other area. A person facing criminal charges should be very careful to make sure that their attorney, whether appointed or retained, specializes in criminal defense. 
  3. Third, there is a certain economic reality at work when a criminal defense attorney decides how to spend their limited time and the firm's limited resources. A conscientious lawyer would never neglect any case, and the bar overseers ensure that certain minimum standards are met. Still, when it comes down to it, there is the potential that a lawyer will choose to put extra time and effort into the privately retained case and not the court appointed one.

Choosing the Best Criminal Defense Lawyer for you

In the end, the best lawyer will have the experience and expertise you need, but just as important, they are someone that you like and that you can talk to and get along with. That defense lawyer is probably one that the DAs and judges respect and that a Jury can listen to, understand, and agree with. A lot of criminal defense attorneys fall back on aggressive language and pompous bluster. The reality is that the most effective lawyers don't really talk like that. It's a lot easier to yell at someone than it is to have a conversation, but effective advocacy is not about bullying people. The tougher job, and the more important job, does not have anything to do with arrogance, ego or bragging rights. Instead, it involves understanding and interpreting complicated legal issues in a way that benefits your defense, and then knowing how to persuasively communicate that perspective to a judge and jury.