Criminal Defense Lawyer
It is one of the great ironies of American culture that in this “free” country, we have the highest rate of incarcerations in the world. While the United States is home to only five percent of the world’s population, we hold 25 percent of the global prison population . . . which begs the question, what do we mean by a free country?
Locking people up for a wide range of crimes is a feature of American society, but if you’ve been accused of a crime, the outcome will often hinge on the quality of legal representation you have. The United States Constitution contains provisions designed to protect the accused in various ways. On paper, our justice system looks good, and yet our government strips away the freedom of so many. While we do have constitutional rights, they are of little use unless we fully avail ourselves of those rights. This begins with asserting your right to counsel immediately if you have been questioned, arrested, or detained by law enforcement. Call an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer at the first hint that you are being accused of a crime, even if charges have not yet been filed.
In Pittsburgh and throughout Western Pennsylvania, you can find the experienced representation that will protect your freedom, finances, and future by calling the law offices of Gary Gerson. With more than 25 years of criminal defense experience, Gary knows the ins and outs of the criminal justice system—both at the state and federal level ̶ and he is deeply and passionately committed to ensuring that every one of his clients who has been accused of a crime receives the full protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution. He has a long record of having charges dropped or reduced and of obtaining acquittals at trial. In some cases, if you get him involved at the very earliest stages, he may even be able to prevent having charges filed at all.
In Pennsylvania, as in all other states, every person charged with a crime has certain constitutionally guaranteed protections, including but not limited to: the right to a speedy trial, the right against self-incrimination, the right to trial by jury, the right to counsel, and the right to confront witnesses.
Should I cooperate in a criminal investigation?
However, those individuals unfamiliar with the criminal justice system and who find themselves to be the subject or target of a criminal investigation, frequently unknowingly assist law enforcement officials in developing reasonable suspicion or probable cause that ultimately result in their arrest. The issues of whether to cooperate in an ongoing criminal investigation; provide written, oral or videotaped statements to law enforcement officials; or consent to a request for a warrantless search will be addressed below.
- No Duty to Cooperate with Law Enforcement Officials. There is absolutely no duty to cooperate with police, detectives, special agents, or other law enforcement officials in an ongoing criminal investigation; particularly when the individual whose cooperation is sought is the “subject” or “target” of the investigation. In other words, there is no duty to provide information that may be interpreted by law enforcement officials as incriminating. Many people make the mistake of attempting to “talk their way out” of criminal charges. Invariably, such attempts prove unsuccessful and lead to an arrest.Frequently, law enforcement officials seek cooperation because they do not have sufficient information to establish reasonable suspicion or probable cause to arrest. Generally, law enforcement officials request voluntary cooperation in order to “fill in the blanks” of their criminal investigation; and will emphasize that the person whose cooperation is sought is not under arrest and is free to leave or discontinue the “interview.” However, since there is no way to know the source, content, or accuracy of the information possessed by law enforcement officials, all requests to provide information should be resisted “out of an abundance of caution.” Under no circumstances should an individual provide information to law enforcement officials without the involvement of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
- No Duty to Provide Statements. The right against self-incrimination is guaranteed by the constitutions of both the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Generally, voluntary statements (oral, written or recorded) made to law enforcement officials during the course of a criminal investigation, regardless of location, may be introduced at trial as evidence against an accused and labeled as an “admission” or ” confession“.Notification of Mirandarights (i.e, “you have a right to remain silent, anything you say will be used against you in a court of law, you have a right to an attorney and, an attorney will be provided if you cannot afford one”) are required only during “custodial interrogations”. In other words, law enforcement officials must advise individuals of their Miranda rights prior to questioning (i.e., interrogation), but only when the individual is in custody (i.e., either under arrest or not free to leave.)Frequently, law enforcement officials are trained in the art of custodial interrogation, and are frequently successful in obtaining “false admissions”. As it is extremely difficult to successfully defend criminal cases involving admissionsor confessions, any such statements should be avoided regardless of any promises or inducements offered by law enforcement officials.
- No Duty to Consent to a Warrantless Search. The constitutions of both the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania guarantee all citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of their bodies, clothing, personal effects, residences, vehicles, and any other area where they have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” As a general rule, searches are illegal unless accompanied by a search warrant that is supported by probable cause. Frequently, however, requests for permission to conduct warrantless searches occur during vehicle stops (“Do you mind if I search your vehicle for weapons or drugs?”) or “knock and talk” encounters at residences (“Can we come in and talk with you?”) While there are exceptions to the warrant requirement such as the “plain view doctrine”, there is absolutely no duty to assist in an investigation by voluntarily consenting to a request to search, particularly in situations where law enforcement officials have not previously obtained a search warrant. It is extremely difficult for a criminal defense attorney to attack the legality of a warrantless search when consent (written or otherwise) has been given and, consequently, all requests for consent should be denied.
Choosing the Best Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Lawyer
Anyone charged with a crime needs reliable legal counsel, even if he or she is guilty. The justice system is not infallible, and sometimes people suffer unjust punishments, wrongful imprisonment, or unjustifiable penalties for their crimes. Defense lawyers exist to ensure accused individuals retain their legal rights under the Constitution and state laws. Finding the right criminal defense lawyer is crucial for anyone facing criminal charges. The right attorney can help lessen penalties, argue for lighter charges, or, in some cases, persuade judges to dismiss cases.
Pittsburgh is a booming metropolitan area that is subject to the same kinds of criminal activity as any other city. People who are facing criminal charges in Pittsburgh need legal representatives who have experience handling similar cases and who understand state laws surrounding criminal cases. It’s crucial that any person facing criminal charges carefully weigh his or her options when choosing a defense attorney.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense
The Law Offices of Gary E. Gerson is a full-service legal firm specializing in criminal defense throughout Pittsburgh. Our Pittsburgh criminal lawyers have more than 25 years of experience defending clients from all manner of criminal charges. Our firm has a reputation for personable, professional legal representation in all practice areas.
While we are confident in our abilities to handle any type of criminal defense case, we understand that Pittsburgh citizens want to be sure of their decision when they choose an attorney. Consider the following guide for tips and suggestions for finding the best defense lawyer. Hiring a reliable attorney can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of a criminal case. It can also be the difference between years in prison and more fitting, lighter punishments in some cases.
Finding the Right Attorney
Time is certainly a factor in any criminal defense case, but that doesn’t mean you need to accept your first offer for legal counsel. When an accused individual cannot secure legal representation, the court will appoint a public defender to represent the individual. Public defenders help ensure the protection of the accused individuals’ rights. They must provide the best legal representation possible. However, public defenders often juggle several cases at a time, so clients are sometimes lost in the shuffle and their legal representation may suffer.
Securing a private defense attorney is usually the safer option for anyone accused of a crime. While this is generally more expensive, a private criminal defense attorney will likely provide a better defense than the average public defender. If you decide to forego the public defender and seek your own legal counsel, there are a few things you should look for in potential candidates.
First, familiarize yourself with your options. Search for criminal defense lawyers in your area and start narrowing your options from there. The first thing you should look for is experience – both in time practicing and focus on the practice area that applies to your situation. For example, you may find a defense attorney with 30 years of experience specializing in DUI defense. If you are facing sexual assault charges, this attorney may have quite a bit of experience but specializes in another area of law. You will likely have greater success with an attorney who may not have been in practice as long but who specializes in sexual assault cases. Ideally, you should look for a criminal defense attorney with a robust history of success in multiple practice areas.
Finding an Attorney with the Right Experience
Once you have narrowed your choices down to a handful of criminal defense attorneys, talk to friends, relatives, and coworkers to see if they have had any experience dealing with those attorneys in the past. Word-of-mouth referrals are an excellent source of information. If someone you know has faced charges like your own in the past, ask about his or her experience working with the attorney. Have a list of questions ready when you meet with the attorneys on your list. This will help you can compare their answers and choose the lawyer who feels best to you. Consider asking the following questions of any potential lawyer:
- How long have you been practicing? It’s vital to ensure your attorney has the requisite experience for handling basic legal matters, such as filing documents with the court and meeting deadlines. A fledgling attorney is much more likely to make mistakes that could potentially botch a defense case.
- How long have you practiced this area of law? Again, it is crucial that your attorney is familiar with the type of charges in question. For example, if you are facing DUI charges, find a defense attorney with a strong track record of defending DUI cases. If you’re facing embezzlement or fraud charges, you will want a lawyer who specializes in white collar crime.
- Who will be working on my case? Lawyers often work in teams and rely on extensive support staff. It’s crucial to know who will have a hand in your case’s outcome and that you feel comfortable with your attorneys and their staff members. Find out who will touch any aspect of your case and what their responsibilities will be. You should feel confident in the abilities of everyone involved with your case.
- Can you offer references? Some attorneys will provide references in the form of past clients or other legal professionals who can attest to an attorney’s legal prowess. Investigate any referrals you receive to make an informed decision about your legal representation.
- How do you handle billing? Find out how your attorney bills and make sure you are comfortable with the fee structure. Carefully review any agreements the attorney asks you to sign before signing them to make sure you aren’t stuck with an attorney who is too expensive for your situation.
- Can I see your retainer agreement? Carefully read the retainer agreement so you understand the terms and conditions of your legal representation. Unfortunately, some lawyers will take advantage of unwary clients by tacking on excessive fees or overbilling for their time.
Use these questions as a template when interviewing potential defense attorneys. Ideally, you should narrow your choices down to two or three lawyers and then meet with each one to ask your questions. Compare their experience, billing structures, and history of past cases to make an informed decision about your legal counsel. Spend time reading reviews online to hear what past clients have to say about the attorneys.
Pay close attention to both the positive and negative reviews and draw your own conclusions. Remember, some attorneys may write glowing reviews for themselves to inflate their review scores, while some negative reviews may be exaggerations from difficult clients: clients who failed to recognize the futility of their situations or clients who had unreasonable expectations for their cases.
Internet reviews can be a valuable source of information, but it’s vital to take them with a grain of salt and look for common threads among the reviews. For example, if you notice many reviews for an attorney mention hidden fees, it could be the attorney isn’t trustworthy, but it might instead mean the firm has a complex billing structure.
Take advantage of free case evaluations. Many attorneys, including those at the Law Offices of Gary E. Gerson, offer potential new clients free consultations. If the attorneys on your list offer free case evaluations, call them to schedule meetings so you can get a better idea of how each attorney work. During your meetings with potential attorneys, note their responses to your questions and ask for copies of their retainer agreements to review on your own time. Compare your findings to choose the candidate for your situation.
Bar Association Status
Some lawyers who have engaged in unethical or illegal practices face serious repercussions, including disbarment or lawsuits for legal malpractice. Check with your state’s local bar association chapter to ensure your attorneys are ethical and trustworthy. Residents of the Pittsburgh area should confer with the Allegheny County Bar Association to vet potential lawyers. Check if the association has received complaints about a lawyer or if the lawyer’s license to practice has ever been compromised.
Choosing Your Attorney
If you’ve spent time researching the best criminal defense attorneys in the Pittsburgh area, then the Law Offices of Gary E. Gerson is likely to be on your list. Reach out to our team to schedule a consultation. We understand the delicate nature of most criminal defense cases, and we go to great lengths to protect every one of our clients’ constitutional rights during trial proceedings. We are confident in our ability to prove a wrongfully accused defendant’s innocence, argue for lesser charges when possible, and help reduce penalties to the extent allowable by law.
Our attorneys have more than 25 years of experience handling criminal defense cases in the Pittsburgh area. That experience covers a wide range of practice areas, including drug possession, sexual assault, fraud, white collar crime, internet crime, traffic violations, and more. We understand the many factors that come into play with a criminal case, such as circumstantial evidence, mental health issues, and the heat of passion. An inexperienced or unreliable defense attorney can often do more harm than good for an accused individual, so take the time to weigh your options.
If You Qualify For A Public Defender… Think Twice
Your constitutional right to counsel can be fulfilled by assigning you a public defender. But even if finances are an issue, accepting the services of a PD may not be your best choice. Certainly many of the attorneys working in the Public Defender’s office are smart and committed to justice. But they are also over-worked, often carrying hundreds of cases at a time, making it virtually impossible for them to give any one case the amount of attention that every criminal case deserves. They do their best, but with that kind of a caseload, they need to dispose of as many cases as possible, in the least possible amount of time. If your freedom and reputation are important to you, you need more—you need a Pittsburgh criminal lawyer who is dedicated to and focused on your needs, and who has the time to ensure that your rights are fully protected and to raise an aggressive defense in your behalf.
While you may be concerned about the cost of hiring a private defense lawyer, doing so may turn out to be financially advantageous. You can’t work for a living if you end up in jail, and on top of jail time, many criminal sentences contain high fines. Compared to the potential costs of a conviction, the cost of having the right lawyer is usually extremely small and well worth the expense.
Even if you think you can’t afford a private attorney, give Gary Gerson a call. Payment plans are available. Having the right Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer working for you, depending on the circumstances of your case, can make the difference between suffering from incarceration, fines, disenfranchisement, and loss of your reputation and being able to return to your home, your job, and your community relatively unscathed.