I recently had occasion to counsel another attorney who professed to practice defense law in a northern Indiana county. This gentlemen had appeared within one of the criminal courtrooms in Noblesville and quickly discovered that it was he and not his client who was in need of legal guidance.
His client had apparently traveled to Noblesville from out of state for a pre trial conference. While in most criminal courts a criminal defendant will be required to personally appear for such a court setting, in Noblesville, depending on the courtroom, such pre trial proceedings are handled by a lawyer and prosecutor without need for an individual charged to be present.
While at such a pre trial conference criminal cases can be resolved in other county jurisdictions, this is not the case in Hamilton County where a dispositional hearing or Guilty Plea hearing must be requested if a case is not resolved on an assigned trial date. Further, irrespective of whether an agreement has been reached between the deputy prosecutor and attorney, failure to provide the court with specific written acceptance by those responsible for governing residential detention programs or other alternative forms of treatment will potentially nullify one’s ability to secure such sentencing options.
There is nothing inherently wrong about a lawyer taking on cases directed against a client who has been charged with an offense not customarily within his territory of practice. In fact, a significant number of my legal cases involve the defense of prosecutions outside of Hamilton County.
However, a significant problem arises when an attorney’s inexperience merges with a particular county court that diverges from those typically encountered throughout the state of Indiana. As many unfortunate attorneys have learned over the years, Hamilton County is not always one that follows the norm in regard to how defense cases are handled.
Whether it be in regard to case procedure, pre conditions to allowing certain case outcomes or judicial philosophy as to appropriate sentences within criminal cases, attorneys practicing within Hamilton County are uniquely positioned to navigate this county’s unique standards to a client’s advantage.
Conversely, a failure to understand how to best use the procedural process here to a client’s advantage can limit potential alternatives otherwise available. Unfortunately, in most such instances of lawyer inexperience, the legal remedy most often chosen by an attorney is to file what is called a “Withdrawal” of appearance on the client’s behalf. In effect such a legal filing asks the presiding judge to relieve the attorney of further responsibility within a given criminal case. Although the lawyer may be permitted to exit a case, the client who had entrusted faith in that individual attorney is left to scramble for suitable counsel to rectify a potentially weakened criminal defense.
Of particular anguish are those cases where sufficient time has elapsed whereby the presiding judge will not allow an attorney to withdraw his or her appearance on a client’s behalf. It is then that the person charged is left to find competent legal counsel on short legal notice willing to take over representation of a case where legal remedies otherwise available may have been compromised.
On many such occurrences financial considerations in securing alternative counsel can prevent the retention of successor counsel; or counsel mindful of preserving a good reputation may be unwilling to defend one whose chance of success has been reduced by the work of the former out of county legal counsel.
Mindful of such realities I would suggest in no uncertain terms that one charged with a criminal offense in Hamilton County thoroughly vet the knowledge and experience level of a lawyer they may be considering; not only as to experience in defending criminal prosecutions, but just as importantly knowing how to best defend the legal interests of those charged within a Hamilton County criminal courtroom.