When searching for a criminal defense attorney, beware of the lawyer referral $ervice$.

When looking for a criminal defense lawyer, more people turn to the internet now than ever before.  The internet quickly provides them with information and lawyers they may choose to represent them or their loved ones.

If you do any google or Yahoo search, you’ll see tons of search results for attorneys and law firms.  How do you choose between them?  What should you look for?  It’s enough to make someone frustrated.  Just like in any area of internet business, there are things you should know to be a smart consumer and not be “taken.”

As i have outlined in past postings, the selection of a criminal defense attorney is a very personal one, but the things one should always keep in mind are the following: 1)Does this attorney only handle criminal defense 2) Does this attorney know the court where my case is pending,  and 3) Can i trust this attorney to handle my case from begining to end and not hand it off to an inexperienced associate.

With that said, once you do a search for attorneys in any local city you are sure to be inundated with listings from lawyer referral services.  There are several large ones such as lawyers.com or findlaw.com, but new ones are sprouting up regularly.  These aren’t websites of actual attorneys or firms but referral sites set up by an independent company that charges attorneys fees to list them on their site and bring them business. 

On its face it seems harmless, but there are three major issues with seeking an attorney from these large referral services.

1) Most people are under the wrong impression that the lawyers referral services  do a thorough prescreening of the attorneys they recommend.   They may check to see if the attorneys are licensed by the bar association to practice law, but you can do this yourself by going to www.calbar.org.  As far as knowing how effective an attorney is, most of the referral sources wouldn’t have a clue.  They are a business and for the most part, are concerned with getting the most lawyers to pay the highest amount for their listings.  They do not do any in depth research into the lawyers they promote.   You still need to do your own research. 

2) The attorneys they refer to you are not the best or most qualified attorneys but the ones that have paid the agency money to promote them.   Any attorney with a bar card can pay to have a listing at the top of the lawyer referal services.  You just need to pay them.  This wouldnt make me feel good about the attorney I am being referred to.

 3) Some lawyer referral services ask for a percentage of the fees that the attorney receives from you.  How does this hurt you?  Attorneys realize they have to pay (let’s say 20%) to a referral agency so they raise their fees by (you guessed it 20%) so essentially they pass the cost of the referral agency to you.

How can you tell if the website you are looking at is a referral agency or an actual attorney.   There are some easy ways.   Referral agencies usually don’t mention the name of any attorneys on their website.  Or, they have numerous attorney names and addresses on their site.   When you find a site, look to see if you can see the attorney who the site belongs to and if its his or her practice.  This guarantees that this is not a referral agency and will likely not have the drawbacks of a referral agency.    Finally, I should say that not all referral agencies are necessarily the same and some could provide you with good attorneys, but you have to do your research.

Criminal Defense is an area where you need an advocate, someone who you can trust with your freedom and your case.  Just like any area of business, there are some traps for the unwary consumer.   I hope this information helps you.

Best Regards,


Before you accept that plea bargain, Find out what it will do to your driving privilege.

Most of us understand that pleading guilty to a DUI will likely have some effect on your driving privilege.  But what is not common knowledge is that people can lose their license for crimes other than DUI’s.  It is imperative that your Criminal Defense Attorney explain to you ALL the consequences of your Guilty or No Contest Plea in court.

Since the suspensions are not ordered by the court or the Judge, most people don’t know about their driver license being suspended until they receive a letter from the DMV.  By that point, you’ve already been sentenced and its too late to really do anything about it.

One recent example involved a young man who reached out to me because he had received a letter suspending his license after he plead guilty to Vandalism.  Apparently, what he didn’t know was that any guilty plea to a vandalism charge in california will result in a one year revocation of your driving privilege from the DMV.  No restricted license, no “to and from work,” no excuses.  Its a harsh consequence that had this young man losing his job.  He was convicted of “keying “a 6 inch mark on the side of a man’s car who he found at his girlfriends house. 

Another crime that carries a 1 year suspension of your driving privilege is “Hit and Run Driving,” a violation of Vehicle Code 20002.  If you plead guilty or no contest to a misdemeanor charge of hit and run, your license will be revoked for a year by the DMV.  The key to handling these Hit and Run Charges is to attempt to secure a “Civil Compromise” and have the court dismiss the charges.   A civil compromise is essentially an agreement between the victim and the defendant that he has been fully compensated for his damages and does not wish the defendant to be prosecuted further.  If the Judge allows the civil compromise, then the charges are dismissed.  The L.A. District Attorneys’ Office opposes civil compromises as a policy but if the Judge allows the compromise, the case will nevertheless go away.   Hiring a criminal defense attorney with a lot of experience in these charges is key to saving your license.

Finally, if you are convicted of using your car to assault someone (Penal Code Section 245) you will lose your license forever.  If you use your vehicle to ram into another vehicle or even drive into someone’s vicinity (even if you did not hit them) you could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being your vehicle.  This charge carries the death penalty of driver licenses, with the DMV imposing the ultimate punishment. 

Some years ago, I had a client who was a truck driver whose truck was cut off by another truck.  The truck that cut him off then had some pebbles fall out of its bed and smash my client’s windshield.  My client followed the truck and attempted to get the vehicle to pull over to no avail.  Finally, he lost his cool and got next to the other truck and tried to pull him over.  He was arrested for assault with his truck and arrested.  We were able to get the charges dropped and he was given his license back but not after a long fight. 

The moral of the story is to be fully aware of all the consequences of what you are agreeing to.  Most people are so happy that they will not do jail time that they don’t fully acknowledge what else can happen to them.  Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney whom you trust and make sure you know what you are agreeing to.  

Best Regards,

Anthony A. Arzili

Bench Warrants (Question & Answer)

What is a Bench Warrant? 

Basically, it is a warrant for your arrest issued by the “Bench” which means the Judge.  Criminal Bench Warrants are issued when a defendant fails to appear in court or violates his probation.  If you have a court date and you are either late or do not appear, you can rest assured that you will have a bench warrant issued against you.

 When does the Bench Warrant go into effect?

In most cases, it takes a day to get the warrant into the system and have it active.  Some courts will take longer than other and felonies and misdemeanors also differ on how quickly they are put into effect. 

Will the police come looking for me right away?

For most misdemeanor charges, the answer is probably not.  Most misdemeanor warrants will go into the system and will wait for you to get pulled over or have police contact and the warrant pop up.   Although I have seen on occassion, police officers picking up a defendant immediately after a warrant was issued.   On felony matters, the likelihood of being arrested soon after the warrant is much higher.  Some of it depends on the seriousness of the charges and whether they believe you pose a threat to the community. 

What happens if i am arrested on the bench warrant?

If you have an active warrant, you will be held in custody until you are taken to court.   Once you are in front of the judge, you will face additional jail time/fines and/or other criminal sanctions.

Should I walk in and handle my warrant on my own?

If you like living dangerously, then this would be a good idea.  It is much more advisable to have an experienced criminal defense attorney explain your situation to the Judge and Prosecutor.  I’ve handled hundreds of bench warrant recalls and know what is a legitimate strategy for staying out of custody and what is not.   While in court, sometimes i’ll watch a poor soul attempting to talk his way out of being taken into custody.  Judges have heard all the excuses and lies, don’t think you can sweet talk your way out of the situation.  You are only making the Judge more upset by insulting his/her intelligence.

What can an attorney do to help with a Bench Warrant Recall?

What we customarily do with Bench Warrants, is to first research the case.  Interview the client and see what the situation is and are there any mitigating circumstances for the warrant (family illness/death, loss of job, etc.) Then we pull the file and read through what the case is about and what needs to be done.  Armed with this information, we calendar the case up to a courtroom and speak with the Judge.  Our priority is to keep our client out of custody. 

I am afraid to be taken into custody.

There is always a risk that you will be taken into custody when you attempt to recall a warrant.  But the risk is lessened considerably if you hire an attorney to handle your matter.  Furthermore, when you voluntarily handle the matter (rather than being picked up on the warrant) the chances  for you staying out get even better. 

As a final word from Criminal Defense Attorney Anthony Arzili, if you have a bench warrant keep the following in mind.   The sooner you deal with the warrant the better.  Its almost always better to get legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney than to go it alone.  Finally, its always better to voluntarily handle the warrant then to be escorted to see the Judge in cuffs.

 Best Regards,

Anthony A. Arzili