Researching Your Criminal Case: A Word Of Caution

The High Cost of Relying on the Web for Criminal Defense Advice

With the availability of so much information online, you might feel tempted to research your criminal issue or even handle your case on your own. While you can find a lot of information this way, you might be doing more harm to your case than good. There is an old saying that “he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” meaning that representing yourself in court is likely to end badly. Particularly in criminal cases, where rights and freedoms are potentially on the line, relying solely on self-conducted research can get you further in trouble.

Consider some of the drawbacks to finding and relying on legal information online in your criminal case.

The WWW (Wild Wild Web) of Legal Information

There are countless websites dedicated to providing some level of information about the legal system:

  • Freeadvice.com offers thousands of legal articles. It also has a section where site users can submit a question to a licensed attorney.
  • Justia offers similar content and features, including direct access to statutes and laws. I’ll occasionally get questions from Justia sent to me via email, and I’ll always respond!
  • You’ve probably stumbled across FindLaw if you typed in a query regarding your legal issue. The site features tons of articles on legal topics and thousands of questions posted on the user forum. Be careful, you don’t know if statutes or rules are outdated unless you are carefully checking the versions you’re looking at!
  • Avvo, a well-known player in this game, has a legal directory and allows you to search for legal information and advice through free Q&A articles. Beware, they’ve had some negative outcomes and have been sued in recent years. Oh, and Attorneys can buy premier listings to show up in searches first… actually most of these lawyer directories sell their spots to lawyers willing to pay to be ranked higher. Ability to pay for premier listings does not always = premier lawyering skills.
  • Nolo provides online legal forms, a lawyer directory, and legal articles.
  • Cornell’s Legal Information Institute at Cornell, Mycase, and 1800Attorney.com are yet more providers of broad legal information.

And then there are all the attorney blogs. It’s common practice for attorneys to include high-level information about certain legal issues and case types on law firm websites. Like this one!

User Beware

Sure, the web gives you so much information at your fingertips. And with all this information, it might seem silly to pay an attorney to tell you the same kinds of things you can read about and learn for free only. As with everything in life, though, it’s not that easy.

Understanding the law and defending a criminal case are not like resetting the clock on your DVR. You might have the relevant laws and information, but do you know how to apply all this information to your case? Can you take what you read and successfully defend a criminal charge or mitigate the penalties? Thinking you can is often dangerous.

Plus, not all the information online is good information. You might stumble along some content that says that your charge is not as serious as it really is. Some of these sites allow non-lawyers to post to them, so your “legal insights” might not even be coming from a lawyer. Even the answers that do come from a lawyer can be suspect. While some of the sites feature Q&A content from attorneys, they may have thousands of attorneys on the site many of whom don’t reside in your jurisdiction, or who may practice in totally unrelated areas of law. Far from the expert you were hoping to shoot off a quick message to! Who knows if the company can realistically vet these people to see if they are in good standing, still in practice, or actually licensed to practice law in the first place.

Some other red flags about these sites include:

  • State law differences – If you are being charged with a state (not federal) crime, it’s important to know that there are significant differences between charges in one state compared to charges in another state. Receiving information about how the case is handled in New York won’t help you understand your case here in Colorado.
  • Not legal advice – Many legal information sites do not actually provide legal advice. For example, Nolo’s disclaimer states that it provides legal information, not legal advice, and that it is not a law firm. Information is great, but it doesn’t come close to matching actual advice tailored to you.
  • Unique circumstances – Even on sites where lawyers provide answers to direct questions, they almost always end by saying that they can’t provide a full answer until they have more information, because unique circumstances affect how the law is applied. Your criminal history, facts surrounding the charge and other extenuating circumstances all affect the potential outcome of any case.

A Better Route

In almost all cases – OK, maybe even every case – it’s better to get sound legal advice from a local, Colorado criminal defense attorney who is experienced in the type of case you’re charged with. By contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer like me, I can provide you with personalized attention and explain how the law applies to your specific case.

Let Justie Get Justice For You!

If you’re been charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense, researching online is fine but save that for after you contact me. Call me at (970) 670-0738 or email me at justieforjustice@gmail.com. You can also scheduled a free 30-minute initial consultation directly through my website at https://nicollawoffices.com.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship. It’s a blog post and not legal advice. Each case is different, and this post is meant for generalized knowledge, only. If you haven’t signed an engagement letter (or even received an engagement letter) AND issued some form of payment (peanuts do not count), then no attorney-client relationship exists. Nevertheless, we will do our best to ensure your confidentiality should you choose to contact us privately, but do not post about your case in the comments here (because reaching out for help with your case should be confidential, damn it).

If you have done both of the things mentioned earlier–signed a letter and paid us–then, and only then, you might be a client. But merely chatting with us online does not a client make. Suffice it to say, if you aren’t absolutely certain about whether or not an attorney-client relationship exists between yourself and NLO, you should probably ask for some clarity. Until then, we’ll keep your secrets but we don’t formally represent you… YET.

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