Charged with a Crime?

Charged with a Crime?

See What You Are Up Against and Why You Need an Attorney

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you have likely asked yourself whether you should hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you in the case. Oftentimes the question arises because the charge is thought to be relatively minor or because hiring an attorney is thought to be too expensive.

As an aid in resolving these concerns, consider the following:

Unlike most defendants, prosecutors have virtually unlimited resources available to investigate and prosecute crimes. During Fiscal Year 2013, the 93 offices primarily responsible for the prosecution of federal crimes – the United States Attorneys – employed 5,451 attorneys and had a combined budget for criminal litigation in excess of $1.5 billion. Over the course of the year, those attorneys worked on approximately 133,550 cases, involving 197,001 defendants, and disposed of 61,258 cases or 82,092 defendants. This equates to $24,486 per case or $18,272 per defendant.

However, do not be deceived into believing that the prosecutor is somehow limited by these miniscule costs. Take, for example, the case of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Estimates on the cost of retrying the former governor range between $10 and $30 million. Of course, the deep pockets of the government are only part of the problems a criminal defendant may encounter.

Our judicial system, whether state or federal, operates within a strict, and often confusing, set of procedural rules. The rules regulate every step of the court process from the size and type of paper used to the types of motions that may be filed to the timeliness requirements for particular activities. Knowledge of these rules is essential to a proper defense, and the lack of such knowledge could detrimentally prejudice a defendant who chooses to represent himself.

The lack of knowledge of these rules would not be the only obstacle that a pro se defendant faces in a criminal proceeding. If a defendant continues in his plea of not guilty, the only method for resolving the case is through a trial. While the prosecutor bears the burden of proof at a trial, in order to prevail, the defendant must challenge the prosecutor's evidence at every turn in an effort to defeat and overcome that burden. Doing so requires an in-depth knowledge of the rules of evidence, as well as knowledge of the law pertaining to the alleged crime.

Furthermore, prosecutors, like all lawyers, have the education, experience, and training to prevail in a trial. Each has graduated from a three-year law school; each has passed the state bar exam, and each works with the criminal law on a daily basis. As a result, prosecutors are intimately familiar with the procedural rules, rules of evidence, and substantive law, and can easily overwhelm an unprepared and unknowledgeable pro se defendant.

Of the 82,092 defendants in FY2013 whose cases were resolved, 75,718 of them either plead guilty or were found guilty at trial. This translates to a total success rate for the prosecution of approximately 92%. A defendant's odds fare only slightly better at trial. Approximately 2,640 defendants elected to proceed to trial; however, only a mere 328 were found not guilty either by the court or a jury. Thus, the success rate for the prosecution at trial is just over 87%.

If you still think that you do not need an attorney because the charge is minor and the judge will just issue a "slap on the wrist," think again. Of the 75,718 defendants who plead guilty or were found guilty, 60,748, or nearly 80%, were sentenced to imprisonment. This means 4 out of every 5 defendants will find themselves in prison, rather than receiving a fine or probation. According to preliminary reports, the average (or 'mean') length of a prison sentence in FY2013 was 45 months nationally.

Given these obstacles and statistics, instead of asking yourself whether you can afford to retain an attorney in your defense against criminal charges, the question you should be asking is whether you can afford not to hire an attorney. If you want any chance of preserving your rights, ensuring that the prosecutor satisfies his responsibility, and staying out of prison, you need to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney today to represent you against the coming onslaught.


  • United States Attorneys' Annual Statistical Report, Fiscal Year 2013
  • U.S. Attorneys, FY 2013 Budget Request At A Glance
  • U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2013 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, Table 13
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