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Why are Jury Trials So Expensive? The Thoughts of one Veteran California Criminal Defense Lawyer

Why Are Jury Trials So Expensive?

I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer in California for well over of 20 years now.  I’ve done my share of jury trials, bench trials, traffic trials and even some civil trials.  Trials don’t actually come around that often for people like me.  Most cases settle.  Trials are risky. Clients often have to miss work for several days to get through a trial.  And, yes, trials are expensive.

When I get hired on most of my cases, I quote a fee for entire case, without trial.  It’s normally a flat fee that covers whatever I need to do, including settlement of the case, but not the trial.  When it comes time to trial, clients often seem confused that they have to pay more money for the trial.

However, it’s written in every retainer agreement, and it’s quoted in every consultation that I do.  Trial is not included in the fee.  When it comes time for trial, clients sometimes ask about the additional cost for the trial.  The answer is simple, it’s just a matter of time.

For me to handle a simple misdemeanor from arraignment to settlement, I used to say it takes at least twelve hours to do it right.  Now, with all the body cameras and onboard video and audio recordings that come with so many of my cases, it likely takes even more than that.  Twelve hours times my discounted rate of $350 per hour for payment up front is $4,200.  That’s to go to the arraignment, review the discovery, discuss it with the client, do any necessary investigation, talk to the prosecutor about a settlement, discuss the settlement with the client, go back to court to resolve the case, go through the settlement documents with the client and get them headed in the right direction as far as their obligations and maybe more.

If the case does not settle, that normally means a trial.  There are two kinds of trials, bench trials and jury trials.  A bench trial is a trial where just the judge hears the evidence and decides if the client is innocent or guilty.  Bench trials are often faster than jury trials, but they can be risky.  If the judge doesn’t like what he/she hears, you’re sunk.  In a jury trial, we must pick twelve jurors from a panel, and once we do, they will hear the evidence and decide guilt or innocence.  All twelve jurors have to find you guilty in order to get a conviction.  If even one juror is a holdout, then a mistrial must be declared.  In the case of mistrial, the prosecution then has to decide if they are going to try it again.

Jury trials typically take a while.  The jury selection process can take as little as a day and as much as several weeks, depending on the case.  Then there are opening statements by each side, the prosecution’s case, any defense case, rebuttal by the prosecution, closing arguments and then jury instructions.  A quick, misdemeanor trial will often take at least three days, not including jury deliberations.

Trials typically start at 9 or 10 a.m. and go until 4:30 in the afternoon.  There is also preparation time before trial and preparation during the trial, at night, for the next day of trial. Finally, if I am in trial all day and have to do additional work to prepare at night, that means I get little or nothing else done on any other cases during the trial. I can’t see new clients, I can’t go to court elsewhere, and I am likely losing money.

Now, if my discounted fee is $350 an hour and I am in trial for just three days, that’s approximately seven hours a day for three days or 21 hours total. 21 times $350 is $7,350.00 for a three day trial, regardless of whether we win or lose.  If we lose and we have to go back for sentencing or a motion for a new trial and that will be even more time.  Often, I will quote a “per day” fee for trial and not calculate my hours.  My day rate starts at $1,500 per day, and goes up from there, depending on the type of case, location of the trial and the amount of trial time we get from the court.

Trials are expensive and they can be risky.  If you are facing a criminal case and you think it might go to trial, call a lawyer who has a proven track record of success in criminal court.

Attorney Jeffrey Vallens

(818) 783-5700