Prospective clients are often very concerned about how we charge fees in a criminal case. We have completely eliminated the concept of hourly billing. The problem with hourly billing is that it puts the attorney at cross-purposes with their client. The longer it takes to resolve a case, the more money the law firm makes. It also discourages clients from contacting their attorney when they know they will be billed for it.
We do something called value billing or a flat fee. We look at a case, using our 43 years of experience, we are able to determine what we think the value of the case is and what the value is to the client to get it done for them.
What Generally Leads Clients To Your Practice? What Problems Are You Able To Potentially Solve For Them?
Our business is largely based on personal referrals. When you get a personal referral, as opposed to someone who reaches you off the internet, that personal referral is essentially 80% sold on you before they even walk in the office. They have been referred by someone they respect or trust.
We have a full-service criminal practice. That means we can handle any trial level offense, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony, or any appellate matter that arises from a misdemeanor or felony. We also represent those who are being investigated but have yet to be formally charged with a crime.
Criminal defense is a very competitive environment. You’ve got lawyers, government prosecutors, FBI agents, state prosecutors, and police, who are all very aggressive. We try to help people resolve their problems in the best possible way under the circumstances. In a way, we are like legal oncologists; people come to us who are sick. Some people are terminal and there is nothing we can do except to help them through what is coming. Other times, people are sick, but it is early and we can make them well again.
We live in a very legalistic, complex world, so it is not surprising that many people have criminal problems. When they hire us, we consider them part of our family. They rely on us a lot. If someone is in custody, we go see them as much as possible. When people come to us, they are looking for someone to listen to them, respect them, and not demonize them. People just want to be treated with dignity, even if they have done terrible things. As a human race, we have an obligation to try to aspire to that. We don’t judge the clients who come through our door. It is not our job to judge them; it is our job to help them.
I practice law with my daughter and there is a family concept to that. I think people sense that when they come in and talk with us. They are looking to not just be another number, like they might be at another practice. That is something we can provide because to us they are not a number, they are an individual.
When A Client Comes In To Speak With You, What Are Their Biggest Fears And Worries That You Can Ease For Them?
Most of the time, a client’s biggest concern is whether they are going to end up in jail. Every once in a while, someone comes through the door and they are just totally innocent, but most people have some connection to what they are charged with. Just because someone has been involved in something doesn’t mean that the government or state authority can prove that they were. Proving guilt a different concept, which people do not really understand. This is the system that has sustained us as a society.
When you do something wrong, you may want to beat yourself up, but the way we are going to deal with this case is in the context of the rules of evidence and the laws and the facts that are developed. The reality is, the government or the state has to prove their case. Therefore, to us, it doesn’t really matter that much whether you are guilty or not. Our role is not to prove whether or not you are guilty, our role is to make the government or state prove it.
When Someone Comes Into Your Office And Admits Guilt, How Do you Explain To Them That They Still Deserve A Defense?
Many people who come to see us are extremely nervous and most of them have been beating upon themselves. After we get done discussing how the system actually works and the government’s or state’s burden of proof, they tend to feel much better.
We have a much better sense of what is going to happen in a case when the person comes in to see us and we are able to talk them through the case. One thing we always tell clients is that they should be 100% truthful with their lawyers. We cannot defend you unless we know everything. Lawyers have attorney-client privilege, so we cannot tell anyone else what we were told. Many times, clients tell us half of the story, but we need to know the whole story in order for us to defend it. That does not mean that the government or the state gets to know the whole story, but it is important for us, as your lawyers, to be fully aware of any potential liability.
What Makes A Good Client? What Can Someone Do To Help Their Case?
It is always good to find a lawyer early on. If you think you are under investigation, contacting a lawyer can help you find out about that. The earlier you have a lawyer, the better it is for you because it is easier for us to work with whichever police agency is involved. Just like if you are sick and have symptoms, the sooner you go to your doctor, the better the chance of a successful outcome. If you let those symptoms go and you don’t pay attention to them, at the point at which you have to go see a doctor, it might be beyond repair. It is the same idea as seeing an attorney when you violate the criminal law. The consequences can either be severe or treatable.
What Happens When A Client Becomes Convinced That They Should Cooperate With The Federal Government?
We have some cases where we are dealing with people who are being extradited here from a foreign country, which means the US government was able to get a provisional arrest warrant issued and have it honored by a foreign law enforcement agency. In cases like that, where the US government has gone to that effort, we know the case is highly provable. They have to do more to get the extradition than they do in the United States to get them arrested and indicted. It is a higher standard. Often, those cases kind of evolve into cooperation with the government. There often are good reasons for cooperating; you are going to get something in return, in the sense of a lower jail sentence or pleading to only one count, or some other valuable benefit.
Are Clients In Other Countries Pressured To Cooperate With The US Government?
The short answer is no. However, there are many instances, especially with extradition cases where clients benefit more from cooperating than fighting their case.
When a client is in prison in Guatemala, for example, on a US warrant, we, as US counsel have the right to go visit them. If the client is interested in offering cooperation to the US government, it is a very active process. There will be a particular prosecutor assigned to these cases and they will begin the process of proffering information, which is an exchange of information without liability. The US authority can exchange information with us, as can the defense attorneys for their client.
Cooperation, if done right, can be very successful as it creates a very important aspect at that person’s sentencing before the Judge. It will be corroborated that this process began before the client even got to the United States. For people who are arrested in other countries and want to cooperate, the earlier, the better. If you are arrested on a warrant or you think you are going to be arrested on a warrant, hiring a lawyer helps you have a communication line. The prosecutor will not talk to a family member or even to a lawyer who hasn’t officially been retained.
The United States is the only judicial system in the world that does not require a person to incriminate themselves. One cannot be forced to talk to the police or the prosecutor and they cannot be called as a witness in their own trial. That is the Fifth Amendment which protects not just every citizen, but every person in the US judicial system. In judicial systems found in other countries, it is often the opposite. In other countries, you are required to talk to the police.
In the United States, you are not required to ever answer a police inquiry. When people come here from other countries, they don’t understand this concept. They think they have to do certain things that they actually don’t ever have to do and should not do without a lawyer. This comes up in virtually every case and it is very confusing for people who are not used to the American system. Police and prosecutors often take advantage of these cultural differences.
The Law Doesn’t Protect Cultural Miscommunications, In Terms Of Someone Not Fully Understanding That They Don’t Have To Disclose Everything To An Officer?
There is nothing in the law to protect cultural confusion. One of the things we do for people who are foreign nationals is the bridge that cultural gap within the legal system. There are some gaps that you can’t totally bridge and that is where trust comes in. It can be very difficult for someone who comes from a country with corrupt and dishonest police and judges to trust cooperation with the US government. We explain that the way you know you can trust the US government is that the reason they are able to work with you is because they have honored it for other people.
Americans do not understand the conditions of foreign prisons because in America, every place of incarceration is funded by the government authority. We pay taxes for them to build county jails and state and federal prisons. In places like Guatemala, they don’t have the budgets to build the appropriate facilities to incarcerate people. Instead, prisoners who can afford to will pay money to have better accommodations. For $30,000-$50,000, they get what amounts to a one-bedroom apartment. They have a phone, internet, and cable. Sometimes, they bring chefs in and their family comes in and out as they please. It is very hard for these people to understand that when they come here, they don’t get any of that.
What that money does is fund the rest of the foreign prison system, which is horrible. The conditions, generally, are terrible. Some places don’t even have guards inside the prison; they just put up barriers, so no one can get out, and they govern themselves. Those are usually not our clients.
However, one thing that is important to note for clients who are extradited is that their time served in these jails abroad counts towards their sentence in the US because they were arrested on a US warrant.
Are Agreements Made On Foreign Soil Guaranteed And Carried Over To The United States?
Proffer agreements with a form of immunity made by the US government on foreign soil are completely enforceable. We sign all kinds of agreements and they are recognized by US courts. Once you are in the US system, you have all the same rights, even if you are not a citizen. All the same constitutional rights are in play. Anyone who appears before a US court has the right not to incriminate themselves, the right to a trial, and all the other constitutional rights that Americans enjoy.
One thing that we pride ourselves on is our honesty. We will never tell a client that we can guarantee them no jail time. Lying to people doesn’t get you anywhere, even if it gets you hired. In the legal system, there are no guarantees on outcomes. What I can guarantee is that based on my experience, I’m very confident that a certain outcome is going to happen. A lot of lawyers will make promises that there is no way they can keep. In the federal system, there is a process that is followed almost every time. If the client is coming on an extradition, there is a lot of evidence against them, and jail time is likely unavoidable.
What Made You Decide To Start Taking Cases That Would Require You To Visit Guatemalan Prisons?
I started as a federal prosecutor in Miami. When I left that office because I couldn’t afford two kids and a mortgage on that salary anymore, I decided to work the opposite side of what I already knew. I was in the International Organized Crime Unit at the US attorney’s office. Now, I handle the other side of those cases. With my experience as a federal prosecutor I was able to do the mirror opposite of what I used to do.
For more information on Criminal Law, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (305) 577-8888 today.
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