Stephen G. Cobb - Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

Do Many People Avoid Hiring An Attorney For Minor Juvenile Offenses?

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

We see people trying to avoid the expense of hiring a lawyer for all cases, juvenile or adult. The problem with people trying to save money this way is that, number one, they are not going to get the best outcome possible. They are not lawyers, and even if they are, they are not familiar with the criminal court system in either adult or juvenile court. Secondly, in addition to not getting the best possible outcome, they often do things when representing themselves that causes the case to blow up in their face like a nuclear bomb. The most common example of where this happens is in the area of minor in possession of alcohol. Someone comes down on spring break to the beaches of South Walton County, and they get arrested for minor in possession of alcohol.

In this example, the young person does not want to tell their parents that while they were on spring break at the age of 20, they got arrested and charged with an alcohol offense. What they often do is they handle it on their own. They don’t get the best deal possible. If they somehow manage to complete probation without a violation, they don’t know what to do to take care of the negative digital information that is available on the Internet that anybody can find. They also don’t know how to properly do a petition to expunge or seal a criminal record. I have probably had over 150 phone calls in my career from young people who found out the hard way that they had handled their case incorrectly.

One kid, for example, called me long after the event had passed. He was around 25 years old, and he noticed that he was not able to find employment as easy as many of his classmates, despite the fact that he had better grades. He also had trouble getting into grad school. It turned out that the reason was the arrest for minor in possession of alcohol looked to prospect his employers like he had a drug or alcohol problem. When asked if he had a criminal conviction, each time he would put down “No,” which is technically correct. But sometimes, the question would be asked, “Have you ever been arrested.” When he would answer this by saying no, it would raise a red flag.

With this particular young person, what happened was he was given a Notice to Appear rather than actually taken to jail. Since he was not taken to jail, in his mind he had not been arrested. But this is a criminal summons, and because of it he had criminal history. Both employers and graduate schools were looking at him as a dishonest person who had a drug and alcohol problem, because of the way these charges are written. As it is right now, we have untold numbers of people who have this type of criminal history, who don’t know how to handle getting rid of the negative information online. They suffer for it, because they don’t know how to handle the criminal case. In addition to not getting the best deal, they don’t take care of business with getting rid of that thing from the public record.

As a result, sometimes they damage their cases so badly that that particular type of negative information cannot be expunged, sealed, or removed from the Internet. We have people who try to avoid paying a legal fee. With young people, particularly with these MIP cases, we find that many did not tell their parents, and then they find out later that they made a very bad mistake. Instead of paying a small fee for a lawyer to handle the case correctly, they end up paying a much larger fee, in terms of lost income, lost employment, lost education, and lifetime earnings. One of the things that I would stress to young people, especially those who were charged with MIP and attempted to handle it on their own, is how much lower do you want your lifetime earnings to be?

If you think about it, if it’s $10,000 less per year, and you stretch out a work career for just 25 years, we’re talking about a quarter of a million dollars in lost income, without calculating compound interest. In reality, when someone handles their own case and tries to save money now, they really pay for it later in terms of hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income over a lifetime. Sometimes, that figure exceeds one million dollars.

If My Child Intends To Plead Guilty Why Should I Hire An Attorney Anyway?

The difference between entering a plea of guilty with a lawyer, and entering a plea of no contest or guilty without a lawyer, is extraordinary. The difference is a lot of people believe there is such thing as a standard sentence. There is not. There is a standard sentence that is recommended by the office of the State Attorney, but that’s an entirely different matter. What people can be sentenced to is often radically different, and varies on a case by case basis. If your child has a criminal offense, and you want to get it over with as quickly as possible by entering a plea of no contest or guilty for as little punishment as possible, your best bet is to absolutely hire competent, qualified legal counsel. You will get a far better outcome virtually all of the time with an attorney, compared to handling the case on your own.

One thing is certain. Although juvenile prosecutors are quite often the least experienced prosecutors in the office, they still have had trial experience, in most cases. Even if they haven’t, they’ve been to three years of law school, and have had training in terms of how to conduct a trial. A juvenile doesn’t have that type of training, and neither do their parents. What happens is the prosecution asks a simple question: Can this person defend himself or herself at trial? Since they know the answer to that question is going to be “Not at all,” they don’t have to offer a better plea bargain. If the juvenile and the parents retain competent legal counsel who knows what they are doing, the prosecutor is sitting there with far too many cases to prosecute and not enough time.

As they are prioritizing which cases to devote their time and energy to, they are going to notice the juveniles that have competent legal counsel, and they are much more likely to give them the most favorable deals. Even in the worst case in the history of the world, the right type of defense can make a tremendous difference, because the prosecutor knows that the lawyer on the other side will absolutely take the case to trial. Even if they don’t win, that prosecutor’s time will absolutely be destroyed. That’s one of the things I certainly do. If we don’t get a fair offer for our clients, the prosecution knows that I can find my way to the courtroom, and so can every lawyer who may be working on the case with me. My last trial was a capital murder case, so the question of whether or not I can find my way at the courtroom has a pretty clear answer.

For someone who has no lawyer, they might not even know what the courthouse is. The prosecutor will know this, and they will know how to play parent and child. They will play do so, in order to sell them a less favorable plea bargain, that is no bargain at all, in order to keep their statistics high and to keep the elected prosecutor happy. The elected prosecutor pays their paycheck, so that you can bet they pay careful attention to their statistics.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

For more information on Hiring Attorneys For Juvenile Offenders, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (850) 423-0035 today.

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About the Author

Attorney Stephen G. Cobb provides personalized representation for Criminal Defense Cases in FL.