Advantages of Having a Criminal Defense Attorney

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Maryland criminal defense attorney Seth Okin.

Why should someone hire private counsel as opposed to working with a public sponsor?

Seth Okin: I’ll never [speak poorly] about another attorney; it’s not something that I do. I have a lot of friends who are public defenders and I can tell you that they’re overworked and underpaid. They carry a caseload that no one else could possibly carry. They’re in court with five, six, or seven files at minimum, sometimes even more. If you feel safe with someone who’s juggling 15 files, then you’re going to go forward and they’re going to do their best, and it may work out or it may not.

When you hire a private attorney, they may have other clients, but on the day you go to court, more than likely you’re the only client they have. If they do have more than one, it might be two or three at most. The reality is that your attorney knows a whole lot about you. If your public defender is juggling a lot of cases, they may make some form of deal and try to sell you on it. Private attorneys are not going to try to sell you on a deal. We’ll educate you, we’ll give you every opportunity to understand that there’s a deal on the table and if you like it, we explain the pros and cons, and why we might consider it. The same deal may not be offered to you with a public defender. Public defenders and State’s Attorneys are getting paid by the same people, and I don’t trust situations where the same hands are involved in everything. That’s not to suggest that they’re in cahoots… but their offices are in a little too close proximity, and they know each other awfully well; they’re in court together all the time. [If I was a client, I] would prefer someone who knows me very well, and who isn’t preparing my case the night before [the trial] because that’s the only time they have. If a client hires me, from day one, no matter how long we have to prepare, I’m preparing for them on their day. I’m going to be able to say a lot about them and who they are; I need to do that and I need to form a mitigation strategy. I’m going to know the facts of your case and the possible outcomes, and I won’t confuse them with the other 15 files that I have. I’m going to know every single detail so that I can protect you at all costs.

Why should someone not try to represent themselves, especially for a minor offense?

Seth Okin: There are two or three judges who stand out to me. One is in Prince George’s County, one is in the Catonsville District Court, and one is in Howard County. All three of them always start off with the same exact questions. “Are you an attorney? Did you go to law school? Do you know the rules of evidence?” If you answer no to any of these questions, they ask, “Why do you not have an attorney with you today?”

[Attorneys] can help you, guide you, and steer the trial to protect you at all costs. You may get a speeding citation and think, “Oh, it’s just a speeding ticket,” but if you get a few of them, then the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) wants to know why that driver’s license isn’t revoked. If you go in there by yourself and think you’re smarter than the guy who handed you the ticket, you’re wrong… If you get a couple of tickets, the MVA sends you a letter informing you that they’re going to suspend your license for 30 days or 180 days. If you go to that hearing and try to say that it’s just a couple speeding tickets…, you’re not saying the right things. You’re immediately wrong, and the administrative law judge is going to say, “Well, the MVA thinks you can’t control yourself. Maybe you need a little bit of a refresher as to why driving is a privilege that’s been extended to you, and we are going to suspend your license for 180 days.” What do you do for six months? You can’t go to work, you can’t pick up your kids, and you can’t go pick up your spouse; that’s a terrible position to find yourself in, and that’s for minor stuff.

If you’re talking about major stuff, there’s no chance. You’re going to end up in jail… When the state calls their witness, the witness comes forward, and they ask them a lot of questions. You have an opportunity to ask the officer questions, but if you don’t ask questions and you make statements instead, you can’t do that, so the state will object to it, and the judge will inevitably tell you to be quiet, and then you’ll be frustrated and you won’t know what’s happening. Then, at the end of the trial, you’re either going to jail or you’re paying a massive fine. Out of all that money that you spent, you could have spent half of it on an attorney and you could have come away with better results. The State’s Attorney is going to deal with an attorney, they’re not going to deal with someone who’s not attorney, because they don’t need to – they know they’re going to beat you. You’ve got to know what you’re walking into and you’re not smarter than a judge. No one is. That’s why they sit on a bench and we’re on cases.

Why is it important to contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney early on in the process?

Seth Okin: You need to give your attorney the ability to get involved in your case from the earliest moment because as the case progresses, the state builds their case. If they’re going to try to indict you, if they’re handing something off to the grand jury, there are certain things that may or may not be true, there are certain facts in there that may or may not be correct. If it gets to a grand jury, if they indict you, you want to have already been working on that case. You want to have the ability to get access to evidence and start working from day one. You need your own investigator, you need your own chemist, and you need to get someone who has a working knowledge of computers. There are all these different facts that could be out there that the state’s going to use to prove their case. You can’t hire the attorney the week before the trial. You need to get an attorney now, you need to start now, and you can’t wait for the state to figure it out and hope that the charges go away. If you’ve been charged, then chances are there is a reason why, so we need to figure out what that reason is and what the charges are. If you’re waiting for your attorney to magically appear out of thin air and wave their wand to make it go away, that doesn’t happen. They think the officer or the witnesses won’t appear, but they will – the subpoenas are going to be issued and they’re going to be there. You never know if a judge is going to let the case be continued out once you get the opportunity to represent the client properly, and if the answer is no, then you’ve got to go with what you have. It’s not the criminal defense attorney’s fault; it’s the client’s fault. They need to hire someone and hire them right away. Waiting, unfortunately, just isn’t an option. If you value your freedom, you don’t want to wait. If you’ve been accused, even if you’ve been falsely accused, you want to start fighting from the moment you’re charged