When And Why Should Someone In The Military Hire Civilian Criminal Defense Counsel?

First and foremost, you’re never going to get the best plea bargain if you don’t hire a civilian criminal defense attorney. The prosecutor knows that individuals fear a legal fee, will be likely to overestimate their own ability to handle a criminal case because they have been searching the internet and talking to people who have had similar experiences.

This overconfidence is really why diversion programs were created in the first place: diversion programs make it easier for the prosecutor to sell a bad deal as a plea bargain. A certified criminal trial specialist could get a better outcome without the military member having to jump through all of those hoops.

What About Cases Where There Is A Substance Abuse Problem Or A Mental Health Issue?

If someone has a behavior problem, there is often a rush to get treatment before an accurate diagnosis has been made. The criminal justice system is undergoing rapid change with a greater awareness of the need for treatment rather than harsh punishment. Still, the diagnostic evaluation is completely unscientific and prone to failure. They simply ask two questions. “What’s your name?” and “What’s your charge?” Don’t be surprised: state sponsored treatment programs are NOT about helping people: it’s all about politics.

If the charge is DUI, that person goes to DUI School and DUI counseling. If the charge is domestic violence, the person is required to go to 26 weeks of a batterer’s intervention program, a form of domestic violence intervention counseling. In other words, there is no accurate diagnosis; just a one size fits all treatment response on top of a lot of hoop jumping. That is very punishing in and of itself.

Instead of unscientific, treatment oriented diversion programs, the better course of action is to seek a negotiated dismissal instead. If treatment is needed, then the best treatment for the individual client is sought rather than a “one size fits all” diversion program. If treatment is not needed (someone just made a one-time mistake), it is better to have two requirements to complete in less than a day rather than 48 or more over 6 to 12 months. This is a much better deal – a better plea bargain – for military service personnel and their dependents.

The second reason why someone should hire legal counsel is pretty obvious. If they have defenses that they aren’t even aware of, without legal counsel they are never going to know that. Florida rule 3.220(b) is what is known as a “discovery rule”. A Notice of Discovery requires the State to provide an extraordinary amount of evidence to the defense, and the defense has the same duty to disclose witnesses and evidence. Note: attorney – client privilege still applies and a client’s communications with legal counsel are still privileged from disclosure. In the federal court system, there is no discovery rule like Florida’s discovery rule. Florida’s one of the best in the country. This is where most defenses are found.

Nevertheless, a lot of people think they can just call a lawyer up on the phone, ask a few questions, and that lawyer will give them a Definitive Legal Opinion (DLO) that they can count on. The system doesn’t work that way. A lawyer cannot do that. The lawyer has to file the notice of discovery and review every aspect of the case before rendering a definitive legal opinion. Otherwise, they are committing malpractice.

A third reason to hire civilian legal counsel, is if you just want to settle your case quickly and get it over with. Courthouse surprise is more devastating to military personnel than civilians. An unexpected 30, 60 or 90 day jail sentence can result in termination and involuntary separation. This is when you need a highly skilled criminal defense lawyer the most. Several times a month, I talk to large numbers of people who are unhappy with the outcome of their case. But by then, it is too late: self-representation resulted in a scenario where they were over promised and under delivered by the prosecutor.

Someone contacted our firm recently about how to get their firearm rights restored after a domestic violence battery case. The man went to court and represented himself and took a plea offer because he was told that he would have adjudication withheld. There would be no criminal conviction on his record. That is technically true, but only part of the story.

After court, he discovered he could neither own nor possess a firearm. The “adjudication withheld” did not matter. The prosecutor in the courtroom deliberately did not point this out to him. Now this rarely happens to military personnel because they know about the federal firearm statute known as the Lautenberg Act. But this is not the only area where some form of courthouse surprise can happen.

The Lautenberg Act is a law that causes the loss of gun rights under certain situations and with domestic violence cases. If someone accepts the plea of no contest on a domestic case, their firearm rights are gone. If they’re in the military that would mean that they lose their career. Theoretically, the military has to try and find a way to keep them in while assigning them other duties but that is just impractical in a military environment. The reality is if someone takes a guilty or no contest plea on a domestic, they’re out.

People often forget that the internet doesn’t have all of the answers readily available to the public. For example, the Miranda Warnings that everybody has heard. There are probably tens of millions of legal cases across the country applying the Miranda Warnings to different fact patterns. In some cases, the reading of the rights is required and the failure to do so results in evidence being suppressed. In other cases, based upon the fact pattern, it is not. The fact pattern in a criminal case is critically important. That’s why you should hire civilian defense counsel. You don’t know what you don’t know. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance of Florida Criminal Law is painful.

For more information on Hiring Civilian Counsel For Military Cases, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (850) 669-5882 today.

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