Many of us are familiar with the adage, “you get what you pay for.” This axiom basically means that cheap things are, well, cheap things. A licensed contractor charges more than an unlicensed handyman, but a licensed contractor usually does a better job. This aphorism isn’t always true. In many cases, the same overseas company supplies plain hoodies to Target and designer hoodies to Hollister. Be advised that this logic often doesn’t sway teenagers during back-to-school shopping.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel for a reason. A Rochester criminal defense lawyer makes a huge difference in a criminal case. Most of us have bought vehicles at dealerships, so you know that the salesperson basically dictates the price. That’s the way plea negotiations, which resolve almost all criminal cases, usually go if the defendant doesn’t have a lawyer. But the reality is that many defendants spend so much on jail release that they don’t have much left over for legal fees. In this post, we’ll evaluate some low-cost criminal defense options.
What’s at Stake
Most judges do not allow cases to move forward unless the defendant has a lawyer. If the case doesn’t move forward, many defendants eventually violate a bail condition and wind up back in jail, usually until the case is resolved.
Jail time, court supervision, and fines are bad enough. An affordable criminal defense attorney in Rochester can evaluate your case, identify possible defenses, and reduce or eliminate these direct consequences.
Quite often, the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are worse than the direct consequences. DUI conviction is a good example.
These convictions usually double auto insurance rates. New York law usually requires these drivers to obtain high-risk SR22 insurance and maintain these policies for at least three years. Higher insurance rates usually make up most of the eye-popping costs of a first-time DUI. Legal fees usually make up most of the remainder.
Frequently, even experienced defense lawyers take appointed and private cases. If Mike hires his own lawyer and the judge appoints a lawyer for Jesse, these two miscreants might have the same lawyer.
Here’s the difference. Mike chose his lawyer based on that lawyer’s experience, dedication, and other qualities. Jesse took his chances and got lucky with quality legal representation—but he could have just as easily been unlucky.
Criminal defense shouldn’t be left to chance. When you go through a drive-through line, you might zip right through, or you might wait forever. Additionally, if the clerk messes up your order, you can get another cheeseburger. But if a court-appointed Rochester criminal defense lawyer messes up your case, real trouble ensues.
Furthermore, only indigent defendants are entitled to court-appointed lawyers. Different judges define indigent, or poor, in different ways. Most Monroe County judges assume that if the defendant had sufficient resources for bail, the defendant has sufficient resources to hire a lawyer.
Flat Fees and Hourly Fees
All court-appointed lawyers aren’t created equally, and all criminal defense fee structures aren’t created equally. The difference between a flat fee and an hourly fee could save a defendant a lot of money.
Flat fee lawyers typically charge stairstep fees, such as X for an agreed or open plea, X+Y for a bench trial, and X+Z for a jury trial. Bench trials and jury trials are much more time-consuming than pleas. The price is the same regardless of how much time the lawyer spends on the case.
As one of our colleagues once said, hourly fee lawyers typically charge the client every time they take a breath in his/her name. When considering all the work that goes into a criminal case, like investigations, court appearances, witness interviews, phone calls, emails, and so on, the bill gets very large, very fast.
The fee structure isn’t the only way to save money on an affordable criminal defense attorney in Rochester. Fees are negotiable. Furthermore, New York has more lawyers per capita than almost any other state. If one lawyer charges too much, a lower-priced alternative is probably down the street.
A good lawyer is also an affordable lawyer. For a free consultation with an experienced Rochester traffic violation attorney, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. We routinely handle matters in Monroe County and nearby jurisdictions.
The simple answer is yes, you can go to jail for smashing a car window. Criminal mischief is a misdemeanor in New York. But as always, the issue is complicated. For example, assume Max sees a dog in a hot car. Many states have Good Samaritan laws that protect Max if he smashes the car’s window to rescue the dog. Unfortunately, New York isn’t one of these states. So what happens if you are facing vandalism charges in Rochester, NY?
The uncertainty in this area most likely goes back to the Eighth Commandment (thou shalt not steal for anyone who missed that particular Sunday School lesson). According to Jewish scholars, the Hebrew refers to stealing people as opposed to stealing property, so the Eighth Commandment may be better translated as “thou shalt not kidnap.”  Kidnapping a person is a lot different from smashing someone’s car window.
Usually, prosecutors don’t care about what the law should say, what’s right, or what’s fair. They usually just want to convict defendants of the most serious possible charges. Only an equally determined Rochester criminal defense lawyer levels the playing field. Our team works hard to ensure that a judge never convicts a defendant until the judge hears all the facts, not just the prosecutor’s version of events.
New York Vandalism Laws
First, second, third, and fourth-degree criminal mischief are the most common desecration of property charges in New York. The degree depends on the following:
- The dollar amount of damage (the property owner determines this amount, as long as it’s a reasonable amount),
- Mental state (accidentally, recklessly, or intentionally),
- Kind of property damaged, and
- The means the defendant used to damage the property.
The mental state might be the most critical factor. “Accidentally” is turning around and knocking over a glass of wine. “Recklessly” is throwing a glass of wine, perhaps at someone, and not caring where it lands. “Intentionally” is throwing a glass of wine on a Medieval tapestry.
First-degree criminal mischief is a Class B felony (up to 25 years in prison). All other criminal mischief levels are misdemeanors.
Criminal tampering, a related offense, is meddling or interfering with someone else’s property. This offense is basically the criminal law equivalent of a civil nuisance action. Essentially, nuisance is causing a disturbance that prevents reasonable people from using and enjoying their property. Loud, obscene, or violent protestors near private property could face criminal tampering charges, although such activity is probably disturbing the peace. Cutting off someone else’s utility services, like during a divorce proceeding, could also be criminal tampering.
New York law divides this offense into three degrees, which are defined by the defendant’s intent and the nature of the property tampered with. The most serious of the offenses, criminal tampering in the first degree, is the only such offense that is a felony and could mean seven years in prison.
Possible Defenses for Vandalism Charges in Monroe County
Vandalism, like most criminal offenses, could have procedural and substantive defenses. A Rochester criminal defense lawyer doesn’t have to “beat” the charges in court to resolve the case successfully. Instead, the defense must only be strong enough to make prosecutors think twice about their chances at trial.
Sometimes, criminal mischief is basically a publicity stunt. For example, climate change activists have recently and publicly defaced certain works of art. Generally, however, people deface property when no one is looking. So, officers usually need arrest warrants before they put someone in handcuffs.
Judges issue these warrants if officers file valid probable cause affidavits. Security camera footage showing the defendant smashing a car’s windshield or otherwise defacing property is probable cause. Eyewitnesses who saw the defendant near the scene are most likely sufficient. The owner’s uncorroborated assertion is probably not sufficient.
Lack of intent is usually the most effective substantive defense in vandalism cases. Typically, prosecutors use conduct to prove intent. There’s a big difference between an open-handed slap and a closed-fist punch. But there may be no such evidence in the absence of a security video. Prosecutors could use the extent of damage to prove vandalism wasn’t accidental. But the amount of damage usually doesn’t prove if the conduct was intentional or reckless, at least beyond a reasonable doubt.
We’ve mentioned the ties that vandalism has to religious and civil law. Because of these ties, prosecutors normally don’t pursue these cases too vigorously. Instead, they consider the matter a civil dispute between the two parties.
Lack of interest is really an issue if the defendant has an excuse, like smashing a car window to save an overheated pet. Legally, the defendant has no defense in this case. But the facts make the defendant look like the “good guy” and the property owner look like the “bad guy.”
Generally, pretrial diversion is an option in these cases, especially if a Rochester criminal defense lawyer convinces prosecutors to downgrade the charges. Program requirements vary in different courts. Typically, prosecutors dismiss the charges if the defendant pays restitution, stays out of trouble with the law for a few months, and jumps through a few other hoops.
Get Help with Vandalism Charges from a Qualified Criminal Defense Attorney
There’s a big difference between a criminal arrest and a criminal conviction. Contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi forr a free consultation with an experienced Rochester traffic violation attornei. We routinely handle matters in Monroe County and nearby jurisdictions.