Facing a felony charge is a daunting experience, one that brings along a whirlwind of questions and uncertainties. At the forefront of these concerns is the pressing question: “How much does a felony defense attorney cost?” For a quick snapshot: legal representation for a felony can range from $3,500 to $10,000. But, the costs can escalate to more serious charges.

In this article, we will explore the factors that affect the cost of hiring a felony defense attorney and provide an overview of the current rates. Let’s start!

Total Costs: How Much Does a Felony Defense Attorney Cost?

  • The average retainer fee for a criminal lawyer is $3,750.
  • A felony defense attorney charges around $300 per hour for their services.
  • If a consultation is not included in the initial fee, you can expect to pay between $250 and $350 for this service.
  • For assault charges, the flat fee for a defense attorney is around $9,250.
  • In domestic violence cases, the fixed fee for legal services is around $8,750 on average.
  • For drug possession charges, the flat fee for a defense lawyer is $6,500.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Fees

how much does a felony defense attorney cost

Lawyers can charge either a retainer or an hourly rate. Also, don’t forget to include the cost of consultations in your bill. Let’s take a look at all the fees.


What Is the Average Retainer Fee for a Criminal Lawyer?

A retainer fee is an upfront cost that serves as a down payment toward future services. The amount will vary based on the attorney’s experience, location, and the complexity of the case. This fee is usually non-refundable and deducted from the total cost of a defense attorney.

The average retainer fee for a criminal lawyer is $3,750 but can range from $3,000 to $10,000 if you are facing many charges.

The retainer fee is not the total cost of a criminal defense attorney; it is an initial payment to secure their representation. The attorney will then bill you for their services based on an hourly rate or a flat fee, depending on the nature of your case.

Or, some attorneys may offer a flat fee for specific legal services. This means you will pay a predetermined amount for the entire case, regardless of the time spent. Flat fees are often used for less complex cases, such as misdemeanor charges or plea bargains. The amount of the flat fee will depend on the attorney’s assessment of the case’s complexity and the expected time and effort required.

Discuss the fee structure with your attorney before hiring them to ensure you have a clear understanding of the costs involved. Also, inquire about any potential extra expenses, which may be separate from the criminal lawyer fees.


How Much Do Criminal Defense Attorneys Charge Per Hour?

Hourly rates apply to long or complex cases and cover the lawyer’s time for research, court, and meetings. You can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 per hour. But, some high-profile attorneys may charge even higher rates due to their expertise and reputation.

But, it’s important to note that the hourly rate alone does not determine the overall criminal defense attorney cost. The total bill will depend on the complexity of your case, the amount of time it takes to resolve it, and any extra expenses incurred along the way.

For example, some attorneys may charge extra for preparing documents and traveling outside their area of work. So hourly rate lawyers can include travel time as working, or ask you to refund the cost of gas. Before representation starts, clarify in your agreement if you’ll cover your lawyer’s transportation costs.


Felony Defense Attorney Initial Consultation Fees

Before hiring a felony defense attorney, it is common to schedule an initial consultation. During this meeting, you will have the opportunity to discuss your case and assess the attorney’s suitability for your needs.

Many attorneys offer free initial consultations, but some may charge a nominal fee ranging from $250 to $350 on average. If you decide to hire an attorney, they might credit this fee to your retainer.

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How Much Does a Criminal Lawyer Cost for Federal vs State Felony

how much does a felony defense attorney cost federal vs state felony

Whether you face a federal or state crime charge determines the cost. Let’s figure it out.


Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost

When facing federal charges, the stakes are often higher and the legal landscape more complex. Federal charges can arise if you’re accused of a crime that:

  • Occurs on federal property.
  • Spans across many states.
  • Violates a specific federal law.

Examples of such crimes include bank robbery, drug trafficking, illegal firearms possession, tax evasion, money laundering, and various types of fraud. Agencies like the FBI or DEA handle the investigations for these offenses. If convicted, it’s important to note that you’ll serve time in a federal prison, which differs from state facilities.

Federal criminal defense lawyers often charge higher fees, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 or more.


How Much Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost for State Felony?

The criminal lawyers’ cost can also vary depending on the state in which you are facing charges. Attorneys practicing in major metropolitan areas or states with a high cost of living often have higher rates. Common state felonies include:

  • Domestic Violence: Harm against a family member or partner.
  • DUI: Driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • Drug Offenses: From possession to distribution.

Local law enforcement for state police usually investigates these crimes. The cost of defending against state felonies can range from $3,500 to $25,000, depending on the case’s complexity.

How Much Do Lawyers Charge for Felonies? Specialized Defense

Different felonies come with different price tags for legal representation. Here’s a breakdown based on the degree of the felony:

Felony Degree Average Cost
First-Degree $35,000 - $100,000
Second-Degree $5,000 - $25,000
Third-Degree $3,500 - $10,000

Prices vary so much because more serious crimes take more time. For example, first-degree murder needs extensive investigation, expert witnesses, and longer trial durations.

The cost also differs depending on the type of crime. Let’s break it down in more detail.

how much does a felony defense attorney cost assault domestic dui


How Much Does a Lawyer Cost for an Assault Charge?

Assault is a crime where one person threatens or causes fear of harm to another. It can be verbal, like a threat, or physical, where actual harm occurs. The severity of the assault can range from a simple misdemeanor to a felony, such as causing significant harm or using a weapon.

  • First-degree or aggravated assault involves a weapon or serious crime intent.
  • Some jurisdictions consider verbal threats as assault if they cause immediate fear.
  • Mutual combat or consent to fight doesn't defend against assault charges in some states.
  • People can use self-defense against assault charges if they use proportional force.

On average, an assault lawyer costs between $5,000 and $15,000 for legal representation in a felony case.


Domestic Violence Lawyer Cost

Domestic violence refers to abusive behaviors in a relationship where one person tries to dominate the other.

  • Domestic violence includes emotional, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse, not just physical harm.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the U.S. experience severe intimate partner violence.
  • In many states, police must arrest someone if they find evidence of domestic violence during a call.

The legal system takes these charges seriously due to the potential harm in close relationships.

The average cost of a defense attorney is between $8,000 for legal representation in a domestic violence case.


Drug Possession Lawyer Cost

When authorities catch someone with illegal substances without the right prescription, they face drug possession charges. The charge’s severity usually depends on the drug type, amount, and local laws.

  • 27 U.S. states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, but federal law still bans it.
  • Harder drugs like cocaine carry stiffer penalties than softer drugs.
  • Many jurisdictions use drug courts to focus on rehabilitating rather than punishing drug offenders.


A lawyer for felony charges in a drug possession case can cost from $3,000 to $10,000. It depends on the type of drug and the circumstances surrounding the arrest:

  • The amount of the drug found.
  • Whether the drug was for personal use or intended for sale.
  • The location of the arrest (e.g., near a school zone).
  • Prior drug-related convictions or criminal history.
  • Presence of paraphernalia or evidence of drug manufacturing.
  • Whether the individual was under the influence at the time of arrest.

And, also, any additional charges or crimes connected to the arrest, such as resisting arrest or possession of a weapon.


DUI Criminal Lawyer Prices

Driving Under the Influence (DUI), also known as DWI, OWI, or OVI, means driving after using alcohol or drugs that affect safe driving. While the terms differ by state, they all refer to substance-impaired driving.

  • DUI charges can result from alcohol or drug impairment.
  • Drunk-driving crashes kill 37 people daily in the U.S.
  • "Zero tolerance" laws in many states charge drivers under 21 with DUI for any detectable alcohol.
  • States often impose harsher penalties on repeat DUI offenders.

Drunk driving becomes a felony when a driver causes serious injury or death to another person. In such cases, the charges can escalate to vehicular manslaughter or even homicide. On average, you can expect to pay between $5,000 and $12,000 for a criminal lawyer.

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Extra Felony Defense Costs to Consider

how much does a felony defense attorney cost all costs

Legal fees are just the tip of the iceberg; there are other costs to consider.

Extra Costs Rates
Criminal Trial $15,000 - $50,000
Court Appearances $500 - $1,500/appearance
Expert Witness Fees $1,000 - $5,000/day
Miscellaneous Costs $500 - $2,000

Average Cost of a Criminal Trial

Criminal trials can be lengthy and involve extensive preparation. In total, you can expect to pay between $15,000 and $50,000 for all fees (including penalties) throughout a felony trial.

So, how much does it cost for a lawyer to represent you in court? Attorneys typically include court representation in their hourly rate or a flat fee arrangement. But, some lawyers may charge extra fees for court appearances, which can range from $500 to $1,500 per appearance.


Miscellaneous Costs

Besides the legal fees, you should also budget for:

  • Court filing fees (around $300)
  • Expert witness fees ($270-500 per hour)
  • Bail (from $1500 to $50,000 depending on the crime's severity)
  • Travel expenses for out-of-town trials
  • Administrative fees

These costs can add another $500 to $50,000 to your bill.

Low-Cost Criminal Defense Attorney Options

Criminal defense attorney fees can be a financial burden for individuals facing felony charges. But, there are cost-effective options available. Some felony defense attorneys offer payment plans or reduced rates for clients who cannot afford the full amount upfront. Additionally, public defenders may be available for individuals who meet specific income criteria.

In the United States, if individuals can’t afford a lawyer, the government provides them with appointed counsel. But, you need to understand that “appointed” doesn’t always mean “free”.

When considering how much a felony defense attorney cost, you have options. Here’s a quick comparison:

Public Defender Private Attorney
Average Cost $10 - $400 $3,750 (retainer), $300/hr
Pros Affordable, Experienced in criminal law Personalized attention, Specialized expertise, Higher success rate
Cons High caseload, Limited resources Expensive, Costs can escalate


Public Defenders: Not Always Free

Many states require individuals to pay a fee even when using their right to a public defender. Here are two types of such fees:

Upfront Fees

Assessed at the beginning of the case, these are standard amounts imposed regardless of the case outcome.

Recoupment Fees

Imposed at the end of the case, these fees aim to recover some or all costs of providing legal counsel.

States assess these fees at the beginning of a case as an application or appointment fee, which can range from $10 to $400. Some states also charge a recoupment or reimbursement fee after a case, especially if they find the individual guilty.


State-Specific Regulations

It is worth noting that the approach to the provision of a public defender differs from state to state:

  • Utah: The only state that prohibits upfront fees for court-appointed counsel.
  • California, Delaware, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island: These states do not have statutes allowing for these fees. California had such a fee but repealed it.
  • Indiana and Minnesota: These states prohibit unpaid fees from becoming a condition of probation.

Utah is the only state that bans upfront fees, while states like California and Delaware don’t have laws allowing them. Indiana and Minnesota allow fees but don’t make them a condition of probation. All other states regulate these fees in the range of $10 – $400.

How Much Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Make?

how much does a felony defense attorney cost salary

While it’s essential to consider how much a felony defense attorney cost, it’s also helpful to understand their perspective.

As of September 2023, the average yearly pay for a criminal defense lawyer is about $97,826. This amount can change a lot, usually ranging from $84,318 to $110,700. Factors like education, special skills, and how long you’ve been on the job can affect this salary.

Average annual salary Average salary range
Base salary $97,826 $84,318 - $110,700
Bonus $4,749 $3,072 - $7,545
Total pay $102,575 $87,391 - $118,246


Criminal Defense Lawyer Salary by Experience

Let’s look at how much criminal defense lawyers earn depending on their experience.

Years of experience Average annual salary
0-1 $78,342
1-3 $86,682
4-6 $98,491
7-9 $106,923
10-14 $122,372
15+ $137,587

Source: Glassdoor

For example, junior criminal defense attorneys earn an average of $78,342 per year. Professionals reach the average salary level after 3-6 years of experience.


Criminal Defense Lawyer Salary in Major Cities

Now let’s compare salaries in the field of criminal law between major cities.

City name Average annual salary Average salary range
San Francisco, CA $122,282 $105,398 to $138,375
Washington, DC $108,900 $93,863 to $123,231
Miami, FL $94,941 $81,832 to $107,436
Chicago, IL $103,197 $88,947 to $116,778
Boston, MA $110,220 $95,001 to $124,726
New York, NY $114,945 $99,074 to $130,073
Dallas, TX $97,190 $83,770 to $109,981

Source: Salary

As of September 2023, San Francisco holds the #1 rank. The average salary of a criminal defense lawyer there is $122,282 per year. Miami, in turn, has one of the lowest average salaries among major cities, amounting to $94,941 on average.


Facing criminal charges, whether it’s DUI, domestic violence, drug possession, or a federal offense, can be overwhelming. The pressing question that often arises is: “How much does a felony defense attorney cost?” Costs range from $3,000 for drug possession cases to upwards of $50,000 for complex federal charges. But, the cost of a defense attorney is not just about the dollar amount but the expertise and peace of mind they bring.

Think of the potential consequences: severe penalties, long-term imprisonment, or hefty fines. Now, juxtapose that with the cost of a defense attorney who can reduce or even dismiss charges. As you contemplate these figures, remember that your future and freedom are invaluable. Don’t hesitate; consult a criminal lawyer to ensure you’re making the best investment for your future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have any felony defense question?

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What is the highest salary for criminal defense attorneys?

The salaries of the most expensive criminal defense attorney can go up to $200,000 or more for experienced attorneys.

How much does a lawyer cost for a misdemeanor?

Misdemeanor lawyer costs can range from $1,000 to $5,000.

Do you get a free lawyer in the USA?

In the USA, individuals can get a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford one. But, this representation isn’t always free, as some states may charge fees ($10-$400) or seek reimbursement.

What is a success fee for lawyers in the USA?

In the USA, a success fee for lawyers, as per the American Bar Association (ABA), is a percentage (30-40%) of the money awarded to a client in a case. If the client wins, the lawyer gets their fee from the awarded amount. If the client loses, the lawyer doesn’t get paid.

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William Green
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