1) You can’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover – Especially in Philadelphia
When I meet a client for the first time, whether its in prison or at my office, they often glumly turn over a huge packet of discovery consisting of police reports and witness statements. Because they are otherwise empty handed, many clients question how anyone can believe their version of events over the word of 5 to 10 police officers.
The first thing I tell that client is that although there are many hardworking, truthful police officers in this city, a larger than expected number of cops LIE. Sadly cops lie frequently, and they lie well. So frequently and so well they are actually professional liars. They come across as polished and genuine in court to some, but underneath all the varnish they are corrupt.
Fortunately, the phenomenon of lying cops is well-known in Philadelphia, so a larger number of cases can be brought to trial and fought successfully on the grounds of officer credibility than is possible in smaller counties where police corruption is less pervasive. So while the cover of the “book” depicts a jail cell, the authors (i.e. the cops and DA) don’t get to decide the ending.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can expose a lying cop to a receptive audience and secure his client’s freedom.
2) You Get What You Pay For in a Criminal Defense Attorney
There are about 13,640 lawyers in Philadelphia, at least 500 of whom practice criminal law.
I’ve learned a sad truth, a very large number of people go to jail in Philadelphia because their lawyers are ineffective. Most criminal defense attorneys in Philadelphia are sole practitioners, which makes it an attractive area of law for newly minted lawyers, or those who couldn’t hack it at a big firm and are looking for something to pay the bills. As one can imagine, there is fierce competition at the bottom of the criminal defense food chain, where different lawyers undercut each other with low legal fees.
Occasionally low-fee criminal defense attorneys manage to carve out a niche and are able to boast about their “20 years of experience”. However, day in and day out these attorneys get chewed up in court by talented prosecutors and the professional witnesses noted above. Their clients may as well be on a conveyor belt to state prison.
Other attorneys charge top dollar as the “Big Names” of yesteryear who won large cases in the 1980’s. They will take your money and run, leaving unseasoned associates to handle your case, or just not have the desire or heart to fight it out like they once did. The results are the same.
One of the best ways to cipher through the false claims and exaggerated tales of brilliance is to research prior case results. If a lawyer does not post them on his fancy, high-priced website, ask him to provide you with specific information on recent cases he’s won. Peer review sites like avvo.com can be used in conjunction with prior case results so as to make an informed decision in the hiring of an attorney.
Too many people try to find a bargain and think they are making a good hire because the lawyer has a dazzling internet presence. Others pay way too much for an over-the-hill lawyer resting on past laurels.
Do your research and find a reasonably priced criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia who produces results.
3) 80 Judges, 80 Different Philadelphia Forums
Between Municipal Court, The Court of Common Pleas, and Juvenile Court there are approximately 80 different judges in Philadelphia presiding over criminal cases.
Judges are human beings, and like everyone else bring their own life experience to the bench when making their decisions, and many become somewhat predictable in how they will rule on certain cases. A case that could be tried as a waiver trial (bench trial) in front of one judge may need to be tried as a jury if in front of a different judge.
A legal argument that works in front of one judge may infuriate another. Some judges prefer motions in writing while others prefer it done orally. The list goes on. Failure to adhere to a given judge’s preferences may spell doom for a client- not because judges are vindictive or mean, but because a rocky courtroom performance exudes weakness and can subconsciously affect a fact finder’s decision making.