Facing legal challenges within the criminal justice system can seem daunting. This is especially true when accused of a crime.
Defendants are entitled to represent themselves, if they wish, in criminal proceedings. Lawyers have long said that anyone who chooses to defend their own case "has a fool for a client." Even if that seems self-serving coming from lawyers, there is some truth to the idea. The legal system is complicated, and when your liberty is at risk, as with prison, the help of an attorney is invaluable.
When you need legal services for a criminal case, there are many options. This FindLaw article will discuss the importance of getting legal help with a criminal legal problem.
Finding a Criminal Law Attorney
If you or a loved one have been arrested or made the subject of a criminal investigation, you may need the immediate help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Civil court cases may involve money or property, but criminal cases threaten people's fundamental freedoms. Those accused of a crime should act quickly to protect their rights. They can do so by hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney.
A privately retained attorney will be willing to spend time explaining your situation. They'll discuss defense options and work out how your case may impact your life outside the courtroom.
If You Can't Afford a Lawyer
At most steps in the criminal justice process, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the help of an attorney to almost all people who have been charged with a crime. This means that, even if you can't afford to hire a criminal defense lawyer for yourself or a loved one, the government will provide you with a lawyer free of charge. Employed by the government as public defenders, these attorneys are responsible for zealously protecting a criminal defendant's rights at all stages of the criminal process, from arrest to first appeal.
Most courts have permanent staff. Others have a system to appoint private attorneys to defend indigent defendants. In either case, these attorneys often handle many cases and receive low compensation. This means that an appointed attorney may not have much time outside of the courtroom to confer with the defendant. These attorneys are typically well-experienced and competent but have less time for discussion of the case.
Some courts will investigate a defendant's employment and property ownership. They can refuse access to a free attorney if they feel that the individual can afford to hire a private lawyer. A public defender won't take part in any related civil proceedings. These could include a personal injury lawsuit filed alongside criminal charges for assault. A private attorney is not limited in this manner and may be willing to represent you in both actions.
The Role of Legal Aid
Legal aid organizations play a key role in assisting people who may not have the financial means to hire private legal representation. Legal aid services can offer valuable legal information, guidance, and representation. They ensure that people are not left to face criminal charges alone.
If there is no assistance available through a legal aid or pro bono services program, consider reaching out to a lawyer referral service. These services conduct interviews with clients to identify the legal issues an attorney could help them with. Many state and local bar associations provide public service-oriented lawyer referral services.
Need Legal Services? Contact a Local Defense Attorney
Getting legal advice on a criminal matter early in the process could make a difference in your case. After all, an attorney with a defense strategy plan can help to shape the evidence in the record and can also negotiate for reduced charges or plea bargains. Remember, not having a defense attorney on your side to help defend against your criminal charges often ends up being more costly than lawyering up.