Can an Attorney Guarantee a Result in a Criminal Case?

It is not uncommon for a potential client or a family-member of a potential client to ask our office if we guarantee a dismissal or a reduction of the charges to a misdemeanor.  This question is only natural when the fees requested are significant.

However, the answer to the question is always tough to give:  NO!  Why this is so may not always be easy to understand, but is important to appreciate in our legal system.  It is the same reason why no lawyer may agree to accept payment contingent upon the outcome of the case.

There are two reasons no lawyer should do this and, if an attorney does make such a guarantee or payment option, the potential client should not only be skeptical, but leave the lawyer’s office immediately or hang up the phone.  Any attorney who makes such a guarantee is waste of your time.

As mentioned above, there are two reasons to run away from such an attorney.  First, it is strictly against the Code of Professional Ethics to guarantee any outcome or specific result in a particular case.  This is taught at most law schools over and over.  Lawyers who do make such guarantees, often even in writing, are disciplined, suspended or even disbarred.
One reason that this is so is because such a guarantee may cause attorneys to destroy or fabricate evidence, intimidate witnesses, bribe judges, bribe prosecutors or otherwise subvert the integrity of the legal process to meet the guarantee (perhaps to get paid).

Second, besides being unethical, it is a “hard-sell” tactic that should be barred.  It shows a desperation and/or extreme inexperience with how the facts develop, the legal theories that may apply or be irrelevant and who will be the judge, jury and the prosecutor.  Moreover, occasionally the law changes in unexpected ways.  These things are simply beyond the attorney’s control and only a fool would guarantee an outcome, even if he or she reads the police report, knows which judge will be assigned, or has lots of experience with the prosecutor.
Our office has heard anecdotally about certain attorneys repeatedly guaranteeing such an outcome in exchange for a higher retainer fee, only to claim that the facts developed differently than expected, rendering the guarantee inapplicable.  The attorney will comment, “why didn’t you tell me this,” implying that it is the client’s fault (rather than his) that the guaranteed outcome can no longer be obtained.  The attorney may also claim, “well, this certainly was unexpected.  I cannot meet the guarantee now,” as if to blame someone else for undermining the guarantee.

While no attorney should ever guarantee a result, the potential client or the family of the potential client should feel guaranteed that the attorney will give 110% effort and apply every bit of knowledge, education and experience to the client’s benefit.  Based on the attorney’s familiarity with the facts, specific experience with the judge on similar cases and similar prior cases with the prosecutor, the attorney can offer his or her opinions of how the case is likely to resolve, but a guarantee is a big no-no.

The potential client should also feel guaranteed that the lawyer will communicate with the client frequently and respond to inquiries quickly always with respect. 

For more information about selecting an attorney and a Marsden hearing, please click on the following articles:
  1. Why Hire a Private Attorney?  Why Shouldn’t One Use the Public Defender?
  2. What Is a Marsden Motion?  What Happens If It Is Granted?
  3. Can I Withdraw My Plea Based on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel?
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