Questions To Ask When Hiring a Defense Lawyer

No matter what type of charge you are faced with in America’s criminal justice system, you will need the expertise of a knowledgeable and dedicated attorney. Properly defending a criminal case, whether a DUI or a vehicular assault case, requires a special knowledge of the scientific evidence (the chemical evidence obtained from you such as blood, breath or urine tests, the results of your physical roadsides tests, or a police medical drug evaluation which are all based in science).

Keep in mind, just because someone calls themselves a "criminal defense attorney," hardly means they have the extensive formalized training necessary to fight the scientific evidence which the government will base their case on, and use against you in court. Many lawyers describe themselves as experienced attorneys. However, more often than not, it simply means they have spent years pleading their DUI clients out to drinking and driving convictions and have shied away from trying or litigating complex trials involving scientific evidence because they had no idea where to begin.

At this critical time, you need an experienced trial attorney who has been formally trained in the intricacies of this scientific evidence and who has the trial experience and formal knowledge to refute this evidence which the government holds against you. For these reasons, it is necessary that you ask these questions of any attorney who you will consider hiring:

What are your fees and why do you set your fees where they are?
This is probably one of the most justified and probing questions you can ask any attorney you are interviewing. Obviously an NCDD attorney who can show you a long list of completed scientific training and certificates earned over a number of years, coupled with an active jury trial calendar is going to command attorney fees which are higher than some "generalist" attorney with no extensive scientific training who takes a criminal case to simply pay his or her office utility bills.

As in other areas of life, the truly "best" in any field are few and make up the tip of the pyramid, whereas the more common and less accomplished attorneys make up the broader base of the pyramid below. If you find a "generalist" attorney who is charging high fees, or comparable fees to an accomplished NCDD DUI Attorney, this should raise red flags, and you should push him or her to justify why their fees are so high. On the other hand, the old saying really holds true - "You get what you pay for." And this saying is true in regards to attorney services also.

Many clients feel they cannot afford a top-notch attorney in tough economic times. But where competition for jobs is toughest, and your future may depend on your ability to beat out your job competition in order to get that great job, is this really the time to hire some generalist attorney with no real training or experience in handling criminal charges? In fact, now more than ever, you need a top flight defense attorney. Yes, you will pay more, but isn't your future worth it?

What is your philosophy when handling a client’s case?
How a lawyer handles your case is testimony to his or her level of dedication to obtaining a positive outcome. At the Law Office of Christopher H. Cessna, the attorney handles clients' case in a personalized manner and gives the attentive service that the client deserves. Every person who comes to the firm will receive one-on-one counsel and quality assistance.

How long have you been practicing criminal law?
Experience is crucial when choosing an attorney to represent you for your criminal case. Attorney Chris Cessna has more than 20 years of experience defending the freedom of those charged with various crimes. His background includes being certified with various memberships and achieving positive results on behalf of his clients.

DUI Defense Questions

Are you a member of the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD)?
The answer to this question should be yes. Unfortunately many “generalist” lawyers will accept DUI cases, but they make no great effort to learn about the fine art and science of defending these very complex cases. And the specialized scientific training required to properly defend against the government's blood, breath and SFST evidence in a DUI case is obviously not taught in law school. In other words, they are a “Jack of all trades, but a master of none” when it comes to defending your DUI.

And frankly, there are a number of attorneys from every state who are accepted into the NCDD, but who never pursue the rigorous scientific training that the NCDD encourages and even requires. In other words, many attorneys join the NCDD to simply market their practice and claim they are a member for marketing purposes only. The key is training, training, training. That's what separates a great DUI attorney from the mediocre generalists who take DUI cases to pay their office utility bills. The only real service such a generalist can provide is to take your money and plead you out in court. Members of the NCDD who train regularly are dedicated to pushing the scientific horizons of DUI defense. Hiring any other lawyer is usually a recipe for failure.

Have you been honored with a special invitation to join the National College of DUI Defense's ELITE team of nationally known "FORENSIC DUI ATTORNEYS?
The answer to this question should be yes - if it's important to you to have a "cream of the crop" NCDD attorney by your side in court. Only a select few of the NCDD attorneys nationwide are invited to join the FORENSIC DUI ATTORNEYS GROUP. This invitation is strictly earned, not offered easily, nor can it be bought with a bigger contribution to the NCDD. This invitation is offered to the few NCDD attorneys who have sacrificed and climbed the ladder of completing the most rigorous and in depth multi-day seminars offered by the NCDD over a number of years, and only then to those who pass a very demanding exam concerning forensic/scientific blood, breath and urine testing in DUI cases. You should always ask for and compare the lawyer’s training resume with any other lawyer you consider hiring, even if they are an NCDD “member” in name only.

Do you have any formal training in the administration of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST)? These are the physical roadside and eye test that the officer most probably ordered you to perform.
The answer should be yes. Chris Cessna is not only a former DUI Police Officer who was trained and certified to administer these tests to hundreds of motorists, but he is also a trained and certified NHTSA SFST Instructor who has taught and instructed other police officers and lawyers around the country. Mr. Cessna has also been qualified as an expert witness in the Colorado Courts as an expert in the administration of the SFSTs.

Even if they knew what to look for or how to properly cross examine a police officer, very few lawyers even know that if the officer administered the roadside tests improperly the tests are to be considered invalid and unreliable by the court or the jury. This in-depth, expert knowledge allows Mr. Cessna to provide his clients with the best DUI defense when the government has obtained standardized field sobriety test evidence against you. Ask the lawyer what certificates and training he or she has received in this specialized area. These certificates will usually be hanging on the wall of his office.

Has the lawyer ever been trained and certified to use and operate the breath testing machine used in Colorado (known as the Intoxilyzer 5000)?
The answer to this question should be an emphatic "YES." Mistakes frequently occur during breath testing. These mistakes occur due to operator error or machine error. Be sure to ask the lawyer for his or her certificate that proves that he is trained and certified to operate and maintain the breath testing machine (Intoxilyzer 5000) which was used to test you. This certificate will most likely be hanging on the lawyer's wall. Don't let the police and the prosecutor be the only one at your trial who knows how this machine works!

Mr. Cessna has been a trained and certified intoxilyzer 5000 operator not only as a police officer, but as a lawyer. In fact, Mr. Cessna is one of only two lawyers in Colorado who owns his own intoxilyzer 5000, and who is actually certified by the state and federal government to operate and maintain it.

The police officer who arrested me for driving under the influence suspected that I was under the influence of drugs (not alcohol). The officer actually seemed more like a doctor - putting me through an extensive medical examination using a stethoscope, a blood-pressure cuff, a pupilometer and other strange medical tests and tools. How will you fight my case against such sophisticated, scientific evidence?
You were examined by a police officer known as a “Drug Recognition Expert” or DRE. This officer is undoubtedly the most well-trained, and experienced officer in their police department for investigating impaired driving cases. In fact, due to training costs, and time away from street patrol, many police departments cannot afford to send their best officers to this extensive, sophisticated and expensive training. However, if the government holds this type of medical evidence against you, then you need an attorney who is a trained and certified DRE. Chris Cessna is the only attorney in Colorado who is a formally trained DRE-EMT (drug recognition expert – emergency medical technician).

Furthermore, in a DUID case, you will be ordered to submit to a blood or urine test. Once a sample is obtained, it will be forensically analyzed on a scientific instrument known as a "gas chromatograph" (or GC.). Mr. Cessna is the only attorney in Colorado who has been formally trained and certified as a GC operator. In fact, Mr. Cessna has over 40 hours of formal lecture and laboratory experience with the gas chromatograph and knows how to spot the mistakes that this machine and its operators can make in analyzing your chemical test.

Make sure and ask the lawyer for his or her certificate that proves that he or she has been formally trained as a Drug Recognition Expert – Emergency Medical Technician (DRE-EMT), and as a Gas Chromatographer. Again, don’t let the police and the prosecutor be the only ones at your trial who knows the science behind the DRE evidence that is being aimed in your direction!

When and how did you win your last DUI or DWAI case, and when is your next DUI trial scheduled for?
The victory should be a recent one. The answers to this question will naturally vary, but he or she should be able to rattle off a recent “Not Guilty” verdict or dismissal in the pre-trial phase, motions hearing phase, or jury trial phase.

Many generalist lawyers will set their client's case for trial knowing they will plead their clients out well in advance because they have no idea how to impeach the scientific evidence in front of a jury. In other words, they bluff, and try to buy time, either to try and impress the client, or stand up to the district attorney - but in the end they cave in and plead out their client. So the true test of a real DUI lawyer is not how often they have cases set for trial, but how often they actually take their cases all the way and get them across "the finish line" and in front of a jury.

And again, the lawyer’s next trial should be within a week or two of your consultation. Most dedicated DUI lawyers will have at least one DUI trial scheduled within a week or so of your consultation. Ask the lawyer what court it will be held in and go watch. The courtrooms are open to the public. The best measure of a potential lawyer’s performance is how he or she actually performs in court.

Have you had any other extensive experience in handling DUI cases? For example, do you have any prior experience as a DUI Police Officer, a Deputy District Attorney, or a Public Defender?
Unfortunately, many “generalist” attorneys who will take a DUI case are under the mistaken impression that any lawyer can adequately handle one of these complex cases simply because they are (typically) not a felony matter. This is a recipe for disaster. If the lawyer you are interviewing has never had any actual experience as a public defender, deputy district attorney, or even as a former police officer, this should raise a red flag.

Prior experience as a DUI police officer, deputy district attorney, or even as a public defender should be a minimal foundational requirement for any attorneys that are thinking of hiring. If the attorney you are interviewing has no experience in any of the above-mentioned roles, this should cause great concern. Always ask the attorney about his past DUI work experience. Mr. Cessna has had extensive experience handling thousands of DUI cases as a police officer, deputy district attorney, and as a dedicated DUI lawyer for the last 20 years.

What and how much formal training in blood testing have you received?
If you have been required to submit to a blood test it will be forensically analyzed on a scientific instrument known as a "gas chromatograph" (or GC.). Mr. Cessna is the only attorney in Colorado who has been formally trained and certified as a Gas Chromatographer. In fact, Mr. Cessna has over 40 hours of formal lecture and laboratory experience with the gas chromatograph and who knows how to spot the mistakes that this machine and its operators can make in analyzing your blood test. If you submitted to a blood test, and if you have decided to interview attorneys to represent you - if you do nothing else, ask the attorney if they have ever been formally trained in both laboratory and lecture on the gas chromatograph.

Even if the lawyer you are interviewing has not been formally trained on the gas chromatograph, at a minimum they should be able to rattle off numerous multi-day, week-long, or out-of-state seminars devoted specifically to impeaching the blood test administered to you. Such training and certificates will almost always be hanging on his or her wall if he or she has received specialized and extensive training in this very important area. Do not settle for a lawyer who attends an occasional one-hour “luncheon” seminar in downtown Denver every now and then.

Have you ever been asked to teach or instruct other lawyers, police officers, or law students in the area of DUI law or defense techniques?
Being invited to teach other professionals is a sign of being accomplished in your area of specialization. Ask your lawyer how often they are invited to teach other professionals in the areas associated with criminal defense.

Mr. Cessna is frequently asked to teach, lecture and testify as an expert in the very specific areas of DUI defense. If the lawyer you are interviewing cannot list off numerous lectures, articles written, or teaching invitations, then he or she is most probably inexperienced or simply not seasoned enough to be in much demand.