Updated: February 6, 2024 by Sean McQuaid
The cost of hiring a criminal defense lawyer is important to every one of my criminal defense clients. Because these situations are not planned, most people are not prepared financially for the burden that being arrested and then having to hire a lawyer quickly carries. Many people use whatever money they have saved to bond out of jail. Over the last twenty-four years of practicing law in Pinellas County and with my office in St. Petersburg, I am familiar with what the going rates are for criminal and traffic cases.
This article is meant to shed light on what I charge and the reasons why certain fees are charged.
Tips Before You Hire a Lawyer
- Get a local lawyer. This applies to whatever county you are in. Although no one will ever admit it, there is a hometown advantage. For example, I know every prosecutor, judge and criminal lawyer in Pinellas County and am in court almost every day. I see what goes on. Pinellas County is different from any other county in Florida. You must hire a lawyer who regularly comes here or you will be at a disadvantage. I see Tampa lawyers attempt to handle cases here like they do in Hillsborough and they walk their clients into a slaughter. Just because they got a good deal for someone in Tampa does not mean that it will happen here.
- Read the reviews for the lawyer before you hire the person. If you were referred by a friend or family member, that is a great start, but do some research. Look at what other people say about that lawyer to learn how they treat people. You can learn a lot through reviews. If there are no reviews or only a few, then do not hire that person!
- Find out if they have staff. If a lawyer is so small that he/she doesn’t have an assistant, then don’t hire the person. Staff are a valuable asset that come with the lawyer. They can answer many logistical questions for you that a lawyer simply does not have time to get involved with.
- Don’t hire a “family friend.” If I had a penny for every time someone came to me after hiring some guy who was a family friend or who went to the same church, and had no clue what he was doing, I’d be rich. Often, just because your parent or family member recommended someone does not mean that the lawyer knows how to practice criminal law. When these lawyers walk into court, they immediately put you at a disadvantage. And, you probably won’t realize it until after you have paid that person in full.
- Don’t fall for scare tactics. I don’t know why criminal defense lawyers do this, but they like to scare people into hiring them. They will tell you some doom and gloom story to increase your level of anxiety and feel pressured into paying them. If what the lawyer tells you doesn’t sound right, call somone else and get a second opinion before you pay.
How Much Does a Lawyer Charge for a DUI?
My standard rate for a first time DUI is $2,500. If you have a prior DUI arrest, even if it was dropped or reduced to a reckless driving, your fee may go up. The reason why a prior record increases the fee is because the Office of the State Attorney will hold that prior case against you. That makes it much more difficult to resolve a case and increases the penalties. With that extra risk and work, comes a higher fee.
Free tip- If you come across as demanding, unreasonable, or mentally unstable, you are going to get charged more. When I have a client that I know is going to be a pain in the rear, i am always tempted to charge more because I know I am going to have to spend more time on the case.
How Much Does a Lawyer Charge for a Misdemeanor?
I charge between $1,500-$2,500 for a misdemeanor case in Pinellas County. If the alleged crime is something simple, like a disorderly conduct, then the fee is on the low end. If the alleged crime is more severe, like domestic battery, then the fee is on the upper end. What a lawyer charges depends on the facts of each case, whether there is a victim, and your prior record.
How Much Does a Lawyer Charge for Traffic Court?
Civil traffic infractions do not normally require a court appearance. If you have received a ticket and are simply trying to keep points off your record, then hiring a criminal defense attorney is going to be more expensive than it is worth. My suggestion is to hire one of the big volume companies like Ticket Clinic.
But, if you have a mandatory court appearance, that is different. Examples of cases that require mandatory court appearances are speeding over 30mph, speeding over 50 mph, an accident that caused serious bodily injury or an accident that caused the death of another. These are serious cases and you need a lawyer. I normally charge $250-$1,000 for the unlawful speed cases and at least $1,000 for the citations involving serious bodily injury or death.
How Much Does a Lawyer Charge for a Felony?
The standard rate for a felony charge in Pinellas County is $5,000. However, unlike a misdemeanor, there are a lot of levels of felonies, and the price can vary depending on what is alleged. If it is a straightforward case like a drug possession that I know a client can get the charge dismissed through a diversion program, I will reduce my fee down to $3,500-$4,000. If the felony involves an act of violence where there is a victim that wants to prosecute, such as a felony battery, then I remain at the standard fee. If the alleged crime involves injury to a victim or the person has a prior criminal record, then I will likely charge more than the standard fee. If the charge involves the sale of a controlled substance, I know that the judge and the prosecutor will prosecute that aggressively, so I will charge more. I also look in every felony case to see who the judge is. While I know every judge and feel comfortable in every courtroom, some divisions are tougher than others. I factor in the complexity of the case and the time and effort that I estimate will be required into the price.
How Much Does a Lawyer Charge For a Violation of Probation?
Misdemeanor violations of probation are $2,000 and felony violations are $2,500. This assumes that the violation did not involve a new charge. If the basis for the violation was for a new charge, then I will factor that into the price. In these cases, I always look to see who your judge is. The goal on every violation is to make sure you complete any outstanding condition as soon as possible. If you can get those conditions completed before the probation office writes the violation report, you will look much better to the judge.
How Much Does a Lawyer Charge to Handle a Warrant?
I charge between $1,500-$2,500 for misdemeanor warrants. If the warrant was for something simple to resolve like driving on a suspended license or leaving the scene of an accident, the charge is on the low end. If the warrant is for something more serious like a DUI or a battery, then I charge on the higher end. Almost all misdemeanor warrants can be resolved through the mail if the person no longer lives here. Felony warrants are more complicated. The standard fee for a felony warrant is the same for any felony case. Because felony warrants can’t normally be resolved without the person coming back to Pinellas County, they are more complex.
Old warrants are a bit different. I have become a specialist in resolving old cases in Pinellas County. Old misdemeanor cases can almost always be resolved between $1,500-$2,500. Old felony warrants depend on the status of the case at the time the warrant was issued. In other words, if you left town after being arrested or have an old VOP, then it is harder to resolve and costs more money. If you never knew about the case because it was filed directly by the prosecutor and you were never brought to court in Pinellas County, the case is easier to resolve and will be less expensive. That is because it was not your fault that you did not know about the case. It is less fair to you to be punished for something so old. In many of these cases, I can resolve the case without my client ever having to come to Florida.
Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Take Payments?
Whether a lawyer will take payments depends on the lawyer. I try not to take payments on my cases. I have been burned many times by people who promise to pay and never do. I believe that people have good intentions, but when they find themselves struggling, my fee is not their first priority. There are always exceptions based on my relationship with someone, but if I don’t know you, I am normally not going to take a payment plan unless you have a guarantor. And, if a client is looking at jail or prison, I will not take payments unless a family member has guaranteed the fee.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer
In every case, I consider the facts and circumstances and try to come up with a fee that is fair to my client and to me. I do not consider how much money you have or how much you can pay. I would never charge someone more simply because he or she can pay more. I know that some lawyers do this, but I did not obtain the reputation that I have by taking advantage of people. I am honest with my clients and always put their best interest first.
I wrote this article to provide some transparency to the world of criminal defense attorneys. Criminal lawyers do not publish set prices because no two cases are the same. But, an experienced and honest defense lawyer can usually estimate what is going to be a fair price after a brief conversation. I always try to be fair with my prices. If you are in need of a criminal defense attorney, I hope that you learned something from this article and will consider me while choosing a lawyer. Contact me today to schedule a free consultation.