A Different Kind of Lawyer

Joseph J. Registrato is a different kind of lawyer to defend you in your Driving Under the Influence or Domestic Violence case.

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If you have been frustrated searching for a DUI or domestic violence lawyer in the Tampa Bay area who speaks in plain English, you may have found one in Joseph J. Registrato.

If you’ve been frustrated searching for a lawyer you can afford, you should talk to me about a “flat fee” arrangement rather than a contract that includes an hourly rate. There is also the possibility of starting off with a contract that includes a down payment followed by regular payments.

And if you’ve been frustrated searching for a lawyer willing to fight even when the odds are against him, you may have found what you’re looking for. In my experience with hundreds of DUI, domestic violence in fact almost all criminal cases, the results are almost always better when you put up a fight.

After 30 years of practicing law (licensed in September 1989), as both a prosecutor of crimes and a public defender, and after spending 20-plus years in private practice, I’ve seen hundreds of people baffled by the explanations they are given by lawyers and judges. Most shrug their shoulders as they walk out of court, having no idea what they were just told. Words like “withhold adjudication,” “waiver of rights,” “no contest,” have little or no meaning outside the criminal justice system, and people should not be expected to understand them in the few seconds they stand before a judge, usually so nervous and rattled they can’t even hear the words being said.

It’s also true that most people can’t come up with enough money to hire a lawyer who charges $200 to $500 per hour, although that is a common hourly rate for lawyers in Florida. First, some cases can be handled on a “flat fee” basis, so that no hourly rate is relevant. While most lawyers won’t bring up the topic, there is a way around high fees at the start of a case, and that is a payment plan. You can buy a car on time, why not the services of a lawyer?

In fact, most lawyers will allow clients to pay “on time,” they just don’t advertise the fact in big bold letters.

And what about finding a lawyer willing to fight for a cause that may seem fruitless or at least dim? Over the past 30 years of practicing law, I have yet to see a criminal case that didn’t get better the closer it comes to trial by a jury.

The Language Problem

Many lawyers have a hard time communicating in plain English, without using jargon, courtroom terminology, what I refer to as “lawyer-speak,” all of which is virtually impossible for the average person to understand.

Unlike most lawyers who went from college directly to law school, I was a reporter and editor of The Tampa Tribune for sixteen years before I went to law school. If there’s one thing I learned writing for the newspaper, it was how to make myself understood even by 5th graders.

The Money Problem

It is difficult for most people to pay a large lawyer’s fee, and lawyers have been known to charge high, sometimes excessively high fees.

Some cases can be handled on a “flat fee” basis, where one or more payments can be made to pay the cost of an entire criminal case so that hourly rates are not included in the contract.

Lawyers deserve to get paid, of course, they have bills to pay just like everybody else. But a fee arrangement can sometimes be worked out so that a client may pay in installments.

Criminal justice, or criminal punishment?

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The Constitution says those people charged with a crime are INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY.

Like in so many other areas of American society, the Constitution of the United States has taken a beating. Your right to be presumed innocent has been seriously eroded by high profile crimes that have made people afraid to even go for a walk, the Central Park Five is a good example, but there are plenty of others. Americans have also become afraid of illegal drug dealing, gun violence at schools and shopping malls, and other terrorist activities.

The truth is, crime rates in cities like Tampa have gone down in recent years, but the big headlines sway the most people, and therefore emotional responses are common. For this reason, there is a big push for stricter law enforcement.

The result of the big, emotional-grabbing headlines is a criminal justice system that is more like a punishment system where defendants are often presumed guilty, and things go downhill from there.

Okay, you might be thinking. But I still need a lawyer I can afford, one who will struggle against the system and work for me.

Big Ugly Bears and Lesser Included Offenses

Criminal defense lawyers need to be ready for the big ugly bear-sized crime such as murder, as well as the mosquito-size crimes, such as Driving Under the Influence. Both can be deadly to the average American trying to survive a world that is increasingly out to get the person who can least afford it. While the high crimes such as murder, rape and child abuse, grab the headlines, it is the misdemeanors like DUI, domestic violence batteries or domestic violence injunctions that most average persons have to recover from, and sometimes that recovery can be hard, expensive and difficult.

Spend a few hours in the courtroom and it will become obvious immediately who the targets are for enforcement of traffic and small-time drug offenses. The odds are stacked against the people who can least afford to pay fines, court costs and take time off from work to do community service hours, but that’s who the State of Florida and local governments have targeted. It’s not a crime to be underpaid and out of work, (or mentally ill), but those are the very people who “the system” seems to be gunning for.

There is a way to strike back, and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. The average person charged with a crime (major or minor), who wants to fight back can and should shop for a lawyer willing to take on the State of Florida without taking you to the poor house.

There’s a few obvious things your lawyer should look for, and some not to obvious.

First, prosecutors offer “plea deals” to those charged with crimes often without having all the facts. They rely on police officers, “victims,” and other witnesses to show up and tell the truth. This sometimes happens, but often does not. The only way to find out if it’s going to come out in your favor is to “test the evidence,” and the best way to test the evidence is to go to trial. The state has the burden of proving you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and it would be a greater country if the state had to meet that burden in every case.

The truth is the odds are in favor of those who choose to fight, whether the crime you are charged with is driving under the influence, domestic violence or violation of a domestic violence order. The reasons for that is the State of Florida has a much better chance of winning a criminal case against a defendant who chooses to take an offer than it does if the defendant forces the State’s hand. Witnesses get cold feet, don’t want to face the often-awkward situation of testifying on cross examination, of swearing under oath to things that may be only half true, or half remembered.

Prosecutors may not admit it, but they are always worried that one of those things might sabotage their case. So, here’s the first secret: The offer the state makes invariably gets better the closer you get to trial.

So fight, at least when it’s possible to fight. That is not always the case. There are times when it is preferable to take the offer, do your time or probation and live with the consequences. When the evidence is strong, when it is not a case of “he-said, she-said,” there may be that discretion is the better part of valor.

But when I’ve got a fighting chance, I’d rather fight than give up.

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