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,

Anthony

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

Why the DUI charge often defies all predictions and assumptions.

It never fails.  About once a month, i hear the same thing.  Somebody’s cousin/uncle/mechanic told them that they should just show up to court/DMV and throw them selves at their mercy and tell them just how badly they need their license and how they would lose their job/school and how no one could drive little joey/grandma to school/doctor’s appointments.  It makes me laugh everytime because I know just how judges or dmv officers love to hear the same thing over and over. 

Truth is, if judges/dmv officers were to spare the license of every person who would lose their job or face a hardship if their license was taken away, no one would be punished for picking up the DUI.  Judges and DMV officers are nice people (for the most part) but they could care less whether you are going to lose your job or can’t go to school.   When it comes to DUI cases, you might as well scream your mercy request to an empty forrest.  

DUI cases are all about the technicalities and nothing else.  This is what makes them different than any other type of criminal case.  For example, if you are facing a theft charge and there happens to be 3 independent witnesses that saw you take that item from the store, place it in your car, the police chase you through the freeways and once your car crashes find the item in your hands, then they have an oral, written and videotaped confession, even your cousin “Slow Joe” can tell you that you are gonna eat that theft charge.

 When it comes to DUI’s its a totally different story.  The last DUI license i saved belonged to a man who had been convicted of a DUI 7 years prior, was speeding, crashed his car into a big rig and failed all Field Sobriety Tests.  When i first met him, he was resigned to losing his license but after a full hearing with the DMV, I was able to find some issues with the police’s investigation of the DUI.  The problems were glaring enough that the hearing officer dismissed the 18 month suspension that the DUI carried.   That’s the strange thing about DUI’s.  They operate on a totally technical standard and sometimes our common sense cannot predict how they are going to turn out.

 In another DUI case that I had, my client had been coming from a bar, had admitted to drinking, and crashing his car to a center median.  When he was found, he was intoxicated and unable to stand.   He failed every Field Sobriety Test and was arrested and booked.  At the hearing, I cross examined the police officer and exposed two minor issues that threw off the DUI charges completely.   The final result was a victory for us.  

My point is that your Cousin Slow Joe may tell you that your DUI sounds horrible and don’t waste your money on an attorney.  Truth is, DUI cases don’t work on Joe’s standard of common sense.  They may sound horrible but you’ll never know if yours can be beat or reduced unless you have a good attorney.

Best Regards,

Anthony

do we bail him out?

It’s probably one of the most common questions I hear when i first speak to families that are faced with a loved one in custody.  Their initial response is to rush to bail him out.   Whether this is a good idea or not, depends on two factors.  If your loved one is facing criminal charges, he will appear in court within 48 hours, not including weekends or holidays.  At that hearing the Judge or magistrate will decide to either release him from custody on his own recognizance (commonly called an O.R. Release) or to set a bail amount.   At that first hearing, we can move to get our client out on an O.R. release (which means that his promise to appear is sufficient and he need not put up any money or collateral).  We can also request that his bail amount be lowered.  One a couple of recent cases, we were able to reduce bail from 8 million to 1 million and from $120,000 to &20,0000.   On a 10 percent premium, that could save you at least $10,000 on bail.

The ultimate question remains, can you afford to bail him and AND get him proper representation.  If you can afford both an attorney and bail, then by all means get him bailed out.  You may still want to talk to us to see if we can lower the bail further or if we can guide you towards trustworthy bailbonds company. 

But if your finances don’t allow for both, then you are putting yourself in a very precarious position by bailing him out and then facing the criminal justice system without an attorney.  I have seen people bail out and appear in court without an attorney just in time for the bail to be increased and they go right back (obviously without an attorney to argue for them to stay out)

So the final word on the question of to bail or not to bail:  If you have the resources to bail and get strong representation, by all means bail them out (first consult us to see if we can save you money).   If you have to choose between bail and an attorney, remember that posting bail only gets him out that day and the criminal charges are still waiting for him.  

Best of luck,

How to choose a criminal defense lawyer.

Today, i met with some potential clients who brought up a good question that i feel many people grapple with when they or a loved one is arrested and facing criminal charges.  To many people, this is their first contact with the criminal justice system and the local courts.  Unlike Tony Soprano, most people don’t have a criminal defense attorney on retainer “just in case” something comes up.  So when they have to find a criminal defense lawyer, they feel totally clueless.

To add to the problem, most people don’t have a lot of time to research and find a criminal defense attorney.  Your loved one is arrested and is due in court in 2 days.  If its the weekend, the odds of you speaking to an attorney dwindle even more.  For these reasons, some poor souls get stuck with their family law attorney or some attorney that did a Will for their uncle representing them in criminal court.  (well-meaning attorneys who know nothing about the specialized field of criminal defense). 

 So what do you do?  What do you look for? That’s what the family of my client asked me.  They felt comfortable enough with me to tell me that they had met with 2 other attorneys and had phone consultations with 2 more attorneys in a 2 day span.  The four attorneys they met ran the spectrum. 

They met a criminal attorney downtown who had a beautiful office and had apparently been practicing for many years.  The attorney was late to their appointment and spent about 10 minutes with them, most of which he spent talking “at them” not with them.   They liked the guy’s experience and he looked successful but didn’t feel any connection with the attorney.

 The next criminal attorney was someone they spoke to over the phone.  The attorney claimed to be a “senior partner” at a large criminal defense firm.  The family said they were impressed with what the man had to say.  He spoke smoothly and confidently about being able to help their son.  The family told me they were eager to meet with the man and hire him, but that’s when everything fell apart.  The defense firm had advertised that they had a local office close by where they can meet clients.  When they asked to meet the man at that office, he told them that they don’t really have an office in that city.  They then found out that smooth talking attorney was not going to be the one meeting with them or even representing their son in court.  They were going to meet an attorney who they had not talked to and who was a young associate at the firm.  That was the end of that.

Their third contact with an attorney was someone who had mailed them a flyer to their house.   They later found out its called “Jail mail.”  The attorney had included a $500 off coupon in their pamphlet.  They never got a chance to talk to the “attorney” and spent 15 minutes talking to a paralegal. 

 The second attorney they met was a local attorney and seemed very nice.  Aside from having to reschedule their appointment once because the attorney was running late, the office seemed very professsional.  The problem came up when the attorney was unsure if they were there for a child custody case (family law) or a criminal case.  The attorney apparently mistook them for some other clients.  They felt comfortable with the attorney but they didn’t get the feeling that he knew alot about what was going to happen to their son in criminal court.

 Overall, it was fascinating to me what this family had to say about their experience in this stressful period.  They shed light on my profession as a criminal defense attorney and how it serves the community.  They also gave me a glimpse on how we can improve.  Choosing someone to represent a loved one in court is almost as important finding a surgeon.   In my discussion with the family, I came to understand 3 major things that guided their choice.  

1) Comfort Level with the Attorney.  Meeting with the attorney and speaking with him/her is key.  Don’t be sucked in by speaking to a “senior partner” or an other attorney that may send a young associate to handle your case.  The one on one connection with the person handling the case is key.  

2) Exclusively Criminal.   You wouldn’t trust your heart surgery to a doctor who spends half his time doing cosmetic surgery and liposuction.  Don’t trust your freedom to an attorney who handles family law, immigration, pet law and criminal law.  Criminal defense is a highly specialized and ever changing field and no attorney who tries to dabble in everything will do one anything really well.

3)Choose Local.  Don’t bring someone from the westside or downtown to Norwalk  or Whittier to handle your case.  They don’t come here regularly and don’t know the court, the judges and the prosecutors.  They will feel like a fish out of water and you are going to be the one that pays the price.

 Best of Luck.

Hiring a criminal defense attorney at the earliest stage is key.

The easiest thing anyone facing criminal charges can do to help themselves is to get expert help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer and most importantly, get it as soon as possible.

Being arrested and charged with a crime is a process and it takes time for the process to play out.  The one thing you want to do is to have an advocate at the earliest part of that process.  Waiting “to see what happens” is by far one of the costliest things people do.  Once you are arrested and now are facing a court date, an experienced criminal defense attorney can contact the District Attorney’s Office and talk to them about the pending charges.  The prosecutors are the ones that make decisions on what charges to file, felony or misdemeanor or whether to file charges at all.

In my experience, a client has been arrested and is given a court date.  The district attorney then goes to work to figure out what charges to file.  If you don’t have an attorney at this stage, no one will be your advocate during this critical “Pre-filing” period.  if a case is somewhat weak, any information we can give the D.A. that he or she may not have could push it into a possible “DA reject” as opposed to formal charges being filed.

 The other huge mistake some people make is to go to the first court appearance by themsleves and see what happens.  What will happen 10 times out of 10 is a worse result than if you would have had a local attorney who knows that court come with you. Sometimes, irreversible damage happens when clients show up and attempt to “talk their way out of the charges.”  First of all, the D.A. will not talk to you about the facts of the case.  So save your breath on trying to explain your way out of things.  secondly, the District Attorney might make you a plead guilty offer.  You are not an attorney and hence cannot negotiate that offer.  Take it or leave it.  Worse part about all this is that most times the DA will then write down than bad offer on her files and we are stuck with that offer even if you later try to get an attorney to come in and fix things.

So, its important to hire a good criminal defense attorney but also to hire them early.  It’s like trying to do an engine overhaul on your car and realizing you need a mechanic when the engine is on the garage floor in a 100 pieces.

Charges dismissed against client charged with Vehicular Manslaughter

 

A tragic car accident that claimed the life of a passenger in one vehicle became even more tragic when our client was charged with Vehicular Manslaughter for causing the accident and the death of the passenger in the other vehicle.

 

Our client was an elderly driver with no record and the unfortunate chance of being involved in this horrible car accident.  After the police did a short investigation, they decided to file our client with criminal charges for causing the death of the victim through his negligent driving.  The accident could have been caused by anyone under the circumstances, but the criminal charges were devastating to our client. 

 

Before hiring us to represent him, our client was frightened of losing his license and the very real possibility of going to jail.  His case was filed out of the Whittier Criminal Court. 

 

Criminal Defense Attorney Anthony Arzili negotiated with the prosecutors in Whittier court for nearly 4 months.  The final result was a great success.

 On the Eve of our Jury Trial, the District Attorney agreed to dismiss the Vehicular Manslaughter against our client.  Our client pled no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless driving and community service and was able to save his license.

Client with 2nd time DUI arrest wins DMV hearing and keeps his license.

 

When a client is facing a 2nd DUI, the consequences are very serious.  Clients face the very real possibility of losing their license for at least a year.   To make matters worse, you are not entitled to a restricted license during this period.  So basically, either you win your DUI DMV hearing or you cannot drive for an entire year.   The consequences are brutal.  For most people this means financial disaster.

 

Your choice is to either give up your license or to get an experienced DUI Attorney and fight for your license.   The DMV’s hearing process for a DUI is geared towards suspending your license.  Your only shot is to have an experienced Attorney that specializes in handling DUI cases attack the DMV’s evidence.

 

I’ve handled nearly 500 DUI hearings at the DMV.  This means I’ve seen all kinds of cases and all possible legal issues and defenses.  Most clients who are facing a 2nd Time DUI basically think they have no shot and it’s just a waste of time and money to fight their suspension.   The fact of the matter is that DUI hearings are extremely technical and police need to follow specific guidelines in their DUI investigation.  A thorough analysis of the police reports will give me the opportunity to find any legal issues or possible defenses that may be argued at your hearing to save your license.

 

My client had a DUI conviction 8 years ago and was now involved in a serious car accident on the freeway.  The police had arrested him for a 2nd time DUI charge and alleged that he caused the accident and had refused the chemical tests.   He was facing a 2 year flat suspension of his license.

 

At the DUI hearing, I presented the testimony of my client.  Then, I attacked the police’s handling of the investigation.  After the hearing, the hearing officer ruled that our argument was valid and found that my client’s license should not be suspended.

Interestingly enough, my client thought he had no shot at saving his license when I first met him in my office.  I was glad we were able to get him working again and supporting his family. 

 

-Anthony