What is the Scope of Representation?

When hiring an attorney, a client should be very clear on what exactly the attorney is going to do for the client.  The Scope of Representation explains the details of the service the attorney is providing for his or her fee.  The Scope of Representation should be in writing and clear.  In a criminal case, there are many stages to the case.  A prospective client should ensure that the the Scope of Representation covers all the stages that the client is paying for.  If any stage of the case is not in the Scope of Representation, that should be clearly noted in writing.

Burges McCowan always provides a written fee agreement when a client hires him.  It will be clear about the fee and what that fee is paying for.

What is a Retainer?

A Retainer is the money a client provides the attorney at the beginning of the case.  This money is held in trust by the attorney.  The attorney tracks all the time he or she spends working on the client’s case and then bills the client.  The money held in trust as a retainer is used to pay that bill.  If there is any money left over, it goes back to the client.  If more money is owed, the bill goes to the client to pay the rest.

What is a Flat Fee?

Most criminal defense attorneys in Arizona charge a Flat Fee. This means the client pays one fee instead of paying for each hour the attorney spends on the case.  The benefit of this method is the client knows how much the case will cost at the beginning and does not have to worry about an attorney hitting him with a large bill later.  The amount of the Flat Fee can vary greatly and depends on the nature of the case and the experience of the attorney.  Generally, someone fresh out of law school will charge less than someone with many years of experience.

Burges McCowan is an experience criminal defense attorney and not someone fresh out of law school. He charges a Flat Fee for his services, but the details of that fee can be discussed with him during the free consultation.

What are Expenses in a criminal case?

Expenses are the costs in a case that the client is responsible for paying.  These costs are in addition to the fee paid to the attorney. Expenses vary from case to case but an experienced attorney should be able to give you a good estimate of the expenses you may face for your type of case.

Typical costs include: filing fees, service of process, depositions, expert witness fees, travel expenses, long-distance telephone calls, outgoing fax, Federal Express, courier services, and delivery charges, photocopying, and online database retrieval charges (Lexis, Westlaw, etc.).

Burges McCowan will always explain the expenses a client may face in a case and consult with the client before incurring those costs. A client should never be surprised with extra costs in a case.

Is a Flat Fee Refundable?

A Flat Fee is generally not refundable.  You are paying for the attorney to handle your case, not for the amount of time the attorney spends on your case.  Also, Arizona State Bar rules prohibit an attorney from promising a particular result.  Therefore, there cannot be any sort of money-back guarantee. However, if you or the attorney end the client-attorney relationship before the job is done (see: Scope of Representation), the client may be entitled to a refund.  In such an instance, the attorney adds up all the time spent on the case and applies his or her hourly rate. If there is any money left over, that is refunded to the client.

Who is the Primary Attorney?

The primary attorney is the lawyer who actually does the majority of work on the case.  Some firms will prominently display one attorney on their advertisements as the face of the firm. But when it comes time to actually do the work on the case, you are handed off to a less experienced attorney. Firms that do this will often claim you are getting the benefit of a team of lawyers and that the guy who is all over the ads will closely supervise the case. The reality is that your primary attorney is someone you were not thinking of when you decided to check out that firm.

Burges McCowan will not hand your case off to someone else.  When you hire Burges, you get Burges.

What is the Judge’s role in the criminal process?

In the beginning of the case, the judge is neutral and serves to make sure the case is progressing in a timely fashion.  The judge does not decide if the case should be dismissed.  The judge does not know the details of the case, aside from what the attorneys tell the judge. The judge does not research the facts on the case.

If there is a dispute between the attorneys regarding the case (e.g. discovery), the judge will help settle the dispute.  The judge will also keep the calendar for the case and make sure the parties are not unnecessarily delaying.  Sometimes a judge will need to issue orders to move the case along.

Sometimes in a case the parties might disagree about a point in the law.  When that happens they will file motions with the court and the judge will read the motions, hear oral argument, and decide the legal issue.

If the case settles with a plea agreement, the judge will review the agreement to make sure it is legally correct.  The judge will also review the agreement with the defendant to make sure the defendant understands the agreement and voluntarily agrees to enter the agreement.

If the case goes to trial, the judge will maintain neutrality and oversee the selection of the jury.  The judge will watch the trial along with the jury and swear in each witness that appears to testify in the case.  If there is an objection to evidence presented in the trial, the judge will decide if it comes in or not.

If the defendant is found guilty, either by trial or plea, the judge will then decide the sentence.  The judge has to follow guidelines and cannot sentence anyway he or she chooses.  But sometimes the judge does have a lot of leeway in sentencing.  The judge will listen to the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the defendant, and any family or victims that want to speak.  Then the judge will announce the sentence.

What is the Grand Jury?

The Grand Jury is a group of citizens that meet to listen to the prosecutor present cases and request they be charged against the accused. The Grand Jury meets in secret and the accused is not present.* Usually the prosecutor calls just one witness, a police officer that worked on the case.  The officer will then tell the Grand Jury why the police want to charge the accused with a crime and the prosecutor will suggest the crimes the Grand Jury should charge.

*The accused does not have a right to attend the Grand Jury hearing.  However, the accused can request to attend.  If the Grand Jury grants this request, then the accused can tell his or her side of the story.  If the Grand Jury believes the accused, they can decide not to file charges.

If you or someone you love might be facing the Grand Jury, it is best to contact a lawyer with experience in criminal defense right away.  Burges McCowan is an experienced criminal defense attorney and he can help.

What is Probable Cause?

The phrase “Probable Cause” comes from the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. To have Probable Cause, there needs to be sufficient evidence for a prudent person to believe that a crime was committed and the accused probably committed the crime. What that means is the government needs to have enough evidence for the average person to believe the accused committed a crime.

It is used in two different contexts in the criminal justice system.  If the police arrest someone for a crime, they must have Probable Cause. It does not mean that the person definitely committed the crime. Far from it.  It just means that the police think they have enough evidence to accuse someone of the crime. If the police do not have Probable Cause for the arrest, the case could get dismissed.

Probable Cause is also used in court during the beginning stages of a criminal case. Regardless of the police, a neutral party also has to find Probable Cause in order for the defendant’s case to proceed.  If the neutral party does not think there is Probable Cause, the case is dismissed.  The neutral party comes in the form of either the Grand Jury or a judge.

If you or someone you love is concerned about whether there is enough Probable Cause in the case, it is best to contact a lawyer with experience in criminal defense right away.  Burges McCowan is an experienced criminal defense attorney and he can help.

What is Discovery?

Discovery (aka Disclosure) is the term used for the evidence the prosecution provides the defense on a criminal case.  This usually means the police report (aka departmental report, or DR).  It can also include pictures of evidence, lab reports, audio or video, etc.  The U.S. Constitution requires the prosecutor to tell the defense about each piece of evidence that could be used in the trial.  The prosecutor also has the duty to provide any information the prosecutor knows of that might help the defendant. This is one of the best parts of the U.S. criminal justice system. When it works properly.

If you or someone you love has an issue with Discovery, it is best to contact a lawyer with experience in criminal defense right away.  Burges McCowan is an experienced criminal defense attorney and he can help.