Finding the Right Criminal Lawyer for Your Case

If you already have a criminal record, you may have an attorney, but they might not be the right lawyer for this case. You may have caught a different charge or be in another jurisdiction than your original case. Maybe you're not happy with how the first case turned out.

You need a good criminal defense attorney if you get pulled into the criminal justice system. Many articles and websites can help you find a criminal lawyer, but that may not narrow things down for you. If this is your first criminal case, finding the right attorney is particularly important because the outcome will affect the rest of your life.

Read on to learn how to find the right criminal attorney for your case and where to look for the best legal advice you can afford.

Do You Need a Criminal Attorney?

Anyone facing criminal charges should consult an attorney. You need advice from a legal professional when facing jail time or a trial. But, in some cases, you may not need to hire an expensive attorney to stand next to you in court.

There are three types of criminal offenses.

  • Infractions are minor offenses such as speeding tickets and some public disorder crimes. If you get arrested for an infraction, the police will issue you a citation or notice to appear, with a court date. You can pay the fine or come to court on the date and contest the ticket.
  • Misdemeanors are offenses punishable by less than one year in jail. First-time DUIs/DWIs, some petty thefts like shoplifting, and simple assaults are usually misdemeanors.
  • Felonies are the most serious crimes, punishable with sentences of more than one year in state prison. Aggravated battery crimes, grand theft, and high-volume drug crimes are typical felonies.

How you respond to the charges will determine whether you need an attorney. For an infraction, if you were speeding and there's no point in arguing about it, you may want to pay the fine and move on. Some jurisdictions do not allow attorneys in traffic court, although you can consult with your lawyer beforehand.

For any violent crime, whether a misdemeanor or felony, you must have legal representation. You can't represent yourself and hope for the best possible outcome in a violent crime case. If you face jail or prison time, you should have a criminal lawyer represent you.

Types of Criminal Attorneys

There are a wide range of possible criminal charges. Even the courts and attorneys don't know all of them. As if infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies weren't enough, crimes have first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree levels of severity. For instance, burglary can have as many as six degrees, depending on whether it was day or night, inside or outside, and whether the defendant had a weapon.

For this reason, criminal defense attorneys often specialize in one area of law after they leave law school. Like civil attorneys, who focus on personal injury or tax law, criminal defense lawyers focus on their specialties. Some common criminal defense law areas include:

  • DUI/DWI. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol was once a minor offense, oddly enough. Now, it is one of the most serious. A DUI charge can cost a driver their license, points on their insurance, and sometimes their job. If you have a drug or alcohol-related driving offense, you need an attorney with experience in this area.
  • Domestic Violence. Domestic violence crimes pull in other areas of law, including family law, violent crime, and sometimes sex crimes. In some jurisdictions, there is a divide between punishing wrongdoers and rehabilitating the family unit. It takes an experienced attorney with knowledge of all these areas to protect everyone's best interests.
  • Drug Crimes. Despite the loosening of marijuana laws in all 50 states, possession of marijuana remains a federal felony. Distribution and trafficking in all other narcotics are crimes everywhere. Surprised people across the country continue catching felony charges for drug crimes because they do not understand these facts.
  • Violent Crimes. Some attorneys specialize in homicide, armed robbery, and other felony offenses. You need one of these specialists if you or a loved one face such an offense. You will need a skillfully crafted plea bargain, or your case will go to trial, and you must have an attorney with criminal trial litigation skills.

Private criminal attorneys are expensive. What if you cannot afford a top-tier lawyer? Where can you go if you need a cheaper alternative or a court-appointed attorney?

Public Defenders

If you cannot make bail after your arrest, you may meet your first public defender at your arraignment. Public defenders are the flip side of the prosecutor's office in most jurisdictions. They provide legal representation to defendants who lack funds to pay for their attorney.

Despite their poor reputation, public defenders are often some of the best criminal defense attorneys available. They are in criminal court daily and know the judges and prosecutors intimately. They are up-to-date on criminal law in your state and may know recent high court decisions better than private lawyers.

But, public defenders have a high caseload and few resources. You can't count on a good attorney-client relationship with your PD. You may only see them on court dates. You may need to do more legwork for your PD than with a private attorney with time and staff to devote to your case. But, if you're willing to work with them, a public defender can do as well as any expensive litigator.

Finding Legal Help

If you or a loved one need a criminal law attorney to plan a defense strategy, you need it immediately. You need someone in your area who can give you immediate legal advice. FindLaw's criminal defense attorney directory can point you in the right direction.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex criminal defense situations usually require a lawyer
  • Defense attorneys can help protect your rights
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties

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