In NJ, the court may appoint a lawyer to represent certain defendants without a fee (pro bono) but be careful accepting the services of a randomly assigned attorney with little or no experience representing criminal defendants. In a recent appeal brief, the NJ Bar Association challenged the random assignment of attorneys to mandatory pro bono cases as “a sham and nothing more than a formal compliance” with the constitutional right to effective counsel. The case involved a lawyer who had left the practice of law for publishing but was assigned to represent a client pro bono in a restraining order violation case. The attorney had no experience and tried to withdraw as counsel, but the trial judge insisted that anyone who could graduate from law school and pass the bar would be able to do independent study and learn to effectively represent criminal defendants.
The attorney at issue was finally excused from pro bono service, but every day in New Jersey, courts assign attorneys to cases for which they have little or no experience. A disproportionate number of these cases are first-time offenders, juveniles, and those accused of domestic violence.
High Cost of Criminal Charges
Criminal charges or restraining orders can have a devastating effect on the financial and personal lives of these defendants, but this reality is often not given sincere consideration by the state. Consider the consequences of a restraining order, which can include:
- Being barred from your home, despite paying the mortgage or rent.
- Loss of custody of children, despite paying child support.
- Prohibition from owning firearms.
- Placement in a database searchable by the public.
Considering the possible harm to the client, it was not reasonable to expect that counsel could learn “on the job” to represent a defendant in a restraining order case. The Bar Association was right—those accused of a crime have a right to effective counsel and not simply a random member of the Bar.
If You Have Ineffective Counsel
If you find yourself with an ineffective lawyer, you need to act quickly. Signs that your lawyer is ineffective include not returning your calls, not allowing you to make decisions on your case, misuse of common legal or procedural terms, missing deadlines, and a failure to act professionally.
Survey your financial needs and resources and consider how you might be able to afford effective counsel. The long-term costs of a bad lawyer often greatly exceed the fee charged by a good lawyer. Look at your resources and make an appointment early in the process before damage is done to your case.
Hiring the Lento Law Firm Team
Experienced Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have the knowledge and experience to effectively represent criminal defendants and get the best possible outcome. Call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.