The cost of a criminal defense lawyer can vary significantly depending upon the jurisdiction, and the nature of the charges which have been filed (or which are expected to be filed) against the defendant. A lawyer will typically require a greater retainer for a complex case than for a simple case. The amount of a retainer will also typically increase with the severity of the charge filed against a defendant. Sometimes, though, a relatively minor charge can require a higher retainer, where the attorney expects to have to engage in extensive motion practice, or where it will be necessary to utilize expert witnesses.
In a misdemeanor case, although as previously noted the typical fee will vary significantly between cities, counties, and states, it is not unusual for a lawyer to request a retainer of several thousand dollars. For felony cases, retainers often start at $5,000 - $10,000, and can be $25,000 or more for serious or life felonies, such as sexual assault cases or homicide. The anticipated cost of expert witnesses can also significantly increase a retainer.
Be wary of entering into a retainer agreement which calls for additional payments if the case will go to trial. It is not unusual for appellate lawyers to hear clients recite that they entered into guilty pleas after they were unable to come up with the necessary funds to pay their lawyers to proceed with a trial. If you do decide to enter into an agreement whereby you will pay an additional retainer if your case goes to trial, make sure that it is an amount you can afford.