How Much Does a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost?
One of the first questions potential clients of Florida criminal defense lawyers want to know is: How much do you charge?
As our Fort Lauderdale defense attorneys can explain, that’s not a simple answer - and we’re trying to equivocate.
Think of it like this: You walk into any restaurant and ask them how much they charge. They’re going to tell you: “Well, it depends… Are you ordering a side salad or a ribeye?”
In the legal world, the specifics of each situation will call for different levels of involvement, different skill sets, different time commitments, different depths of investigation, etc. Hiring a defense lawyer for a traffic ticket is going to cost a lot less than hiring one in a vehicular homicide case.
Some of the questions we need answered before we can give you a dollar amount:
- What type of case is this? Traffic? Misdemeanor? Felony?
- Are there additional charges to consider? Multi-charge cases are always going to require a bit more skill to handle.
- Do you have a prior criminal record? A prior criminal record (especially if you’re still on probation) will complicate matters and raise the stakes on potential penalties. Lack of a criminal record will open up possibilities for negotiation of lesser charges and diversion programs.
- What other challenging factors are at play? Is there video or DNA evidence? Was there already a confession? Will we need to hire expert witnesses to effectively defend this person?
Factors specific to the attorney can come into play as well. For instance, a lawyer in high demand for certain types of cases can charge more. Similarly, the location in which one practices can impact the cost of doing business, which in turn affects rates. (An attorney’s overhead is typically 35 percent to 50 percent of the legal fees charged.) A criminal defense lawyer in downtown Miami is probably going to charge more than one in rural Arcadia.
Our services include research, investigation, preparation, and negotiation - all of which can be very time-consuming. Still, we understand clients don’t have unlimited funds. We do our best to work with clients, and we’re always upfront about costs and expectations. If the work is outside our scope of services or if we’re unable to land on an agreeable cost/arrangement, we may have other local resources or lawyers to whom we can refer you.
Generally speaking, you can expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for help with a traffic ticket, several hundred dollars for minor misdemeanors, $1,000+ for misdemeanors with possible jail time, and $5,000+ for felony cases.
Note: The cheapest lawyer may not be the one who saves you the most money (or time, freedom, reputation) in the end. It helps to keep in mind that you’re investing in your future, as the outcome in your criminal case is likely to have ripple effects across your lifespan - for better or worse.Florida Law Requires Reasonable Defense Lawyer Fees
F.S. 57.112 stipulates that the term “attorney fees and costs” - as used throughout state statute - refers to “reasonable and necessary attorney fees and costs,” including those incurred in the course of preparations, motions, hearings, trials, and appeals.
Florida Bar Rules of Regulation 4-1.5 expressly prohibit clearly excessive fees and costs. Lawyers are not allowed to enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect clearly excessive fees or costs. An attorney fee/cost is excessive when:
- Any lawyer of ordinary prudence would consider the fee or cost excessive beyond reasonable for the cost/service provided - based on the facts - to a degree that it’s clearly an overreach or unconscionable.
- The fee or cost was sought or secured by intentional misrepresentation or fraud.
Reasonable fees and cost factors include:
- Time and labor required for the novelty, complexity, difficulty of the legal questions involved and the skill required to competently perform the services.
- The customary local rate for comparable or similar legal services.
- The significance of or monetary amount involved in the subject matter, and how much responsibility the lawyer takes on in accepting to represent the client.
- Time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances on the lawyer.
- The nature and length of the professional relationship between lawyer and client.
- Experience, reputation, diligence, and ability of the lawyer.
- Whether fees are fixed (retainer, flat fee, advance fee, hourly rate, etc.) or contingent (dependent on the outcome of the case).
In criminal defense cases, contingency fee structures are expressly prohibited. You may have heard the phrase in attorney ads, “there’s no fee unless you win.” These contingency fee arrangements are primarily used in civil cases - claims like personal injury or employment discrimination. As the American Bar Association explains, contingency fee structures only work when there’s the possibility of money to be awarded at the conclusion of the case. In a personal injury case, the prevailing party is awarded financial damages - and their lawyer gets a predetermined percentage of that. If no money is awarded, no attorney’s fees are awarded. (This is why personal injury lawyers tend to be picky about the cases they take on.) But that fee structure doesn’t work in criminal defense cases because there’s no money awarded at the end of the case. The state doesn’t pay if you prove your innocence. (There are rare exceptions to this under the federal Hyde Amendment of 1997, but it’s a very long shot.)
So that leaves us with fixed rates, which can be either flat or hourly. A flat rate might be something like $500 to help with a traffic ticket or $1,000 to help with a minor misdemeanor. A felony charge flat rate would be more expensive, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000+. (Some attorneys will charge more, some less - again, it depends on all those specifics we mentioned earlier.)
Hourly rates will also depend on the lawyer’s experience, the type of case, and inherent complexities.Don’t I Get a Free Court-Appointed Defense Lawyer?
You have the constitutionally-protected right to legal representation as a defendant in criminal proceedings - per the 6th Amendment and the 14th Amendment, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) and Argersinger v. Hamlin (1972). This is true in both federal and state courts - including juvenile cases. However, an attorney is only appointed by the court if you are both indigent (can’t afford to hire a private defense lawyer) AND you’re facing the possibility of lost liberty (i.e., time in jail, prison, or detention).
As longtime Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers, we have known some excellent public defenders in Broward (17th Judicial Circuit), Miami-Dade (11th Judicial Circuit), and Palm Beach (15th Judicial Circuit) Counties. However, their caseloads are often quite burdensome, and they may not be able to devote as much time to your case as a private criminal defense lawyer.
Keep in mind too: Just because you aren’t appointed a defense lawyer doesn’t mean you don’t need one. Lower-level misdemeanors and citations might not involve jail time, but they can still have a significant impact on your finances and your future. Hiring an experienced South Florida criminal defense lawyer is the best way to mitigate those impacts - saving you both time and money in the long-run.
If you have been arrested in South Florida, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.