If you're facing criminal offenses that include prison time or a hefty fine, it's a good idea to hire the best criminal defense lawyer possible. If you don't have much money, you might be able to get a court-appointed lawyer, like a public defender. But this depends on your income.
The legal system can be complex and tough to navigate. This makes it nearly impossible to represent yourself effectively in criminal trials, no matter how smart you are. The system isn't designed to be easy for individuals to work through alone. That's why hiring a highly skilled criminal defense lawyer to represent you during your criminal trial is absolutely necessary.
This article discusses:
What does a criminal lawyer do?
Every criminal case is different. Criminal defense lawyers know how to find the unique parts of each alleged offense as part of the case evaluation. They use their skills to dig up details that could help you win.
The best criminal defense lawyer might see certain arguments and factors that can lessen or even wipe out the crime of which you have been accused. Even if things look bad and you might be guilty, a good lawyer can get a better plea deal for you. This means you may pay less money in fines or get less jail time.
Many criminal defense attorneys are former prosecutors. They often bring valuable insights and experience from their time on the other side of the courtroom. They understand how prosecutors build their cases, including their strategies, tactics, and mindset. This can be beneficial when preparing a defense strategy or negotiating plea deals. Additionally, they may have existing relationships and a good rapport with prosecutors and judges. This can facilitate smoother negotiations and proceedings.
Daily Responsibilities of a Criminal Lawyer
Unlike what you see on television, the day-to-day responsibilities of being an attorney are not glamorous. Generally, the work involves:
- Contacting clients through email, phone calls, video calls, or in-person meetings
- Reading case documents, evidence, and statutes (laws)
- Taking notes on what would be helpful for the case
- Forming a defense strategy for the case
- Keeping up-to-date on recent changes in case law and state law
While these activities may seem boring, they are essential building blocks to making a strong case.
Criminal attorneys often spend months preparing for a case. Preparing can take much longer than actually being in the courtroom. This way, things can move as quickly as possible when the case goes to court, and there are no surprises.
What specific work does a criminal lawyer do that I can't do?
After research and strategy are done, a criminal defense lawyer has many jobs. While in court, criminal defense attorneys call witnesses in your defense and cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses.
Trial lawyers must be dynamic and trustworthy. They must be able to explain complex topics to a jury. They must be prepared to discuss any aspect of the case. But this is just the beginning of the tasks ahead of them.
In addition, criminal defense lawyers often have a legal team to help them with the case. Many criminal defense law offices hire former members of law enforcement, such as police officers, as investigators and attorneys.
Your attorney is trained in working with witnesses. They can more easily gather evidence and statements from the witnesses called by the prosecution. Handling this without experience can be challenging for someone representing themselves.
Many witnesses don't want to talk about a crime to those who might be involved. Mostly, they're worried about their safety. However, they're usually more comfortable sharing what they know with a lawyer.
Handling Investigators and Experts
Part of the case requires finding and hiring investigators and expert witnesses.
Investigators can investigate the prosecution's witnesses as well as the alleged crime. If the investigators find evidence that would make a witness's testimony questionable, this could help your case tremendously.
Similarly, expert witnesses may be able to present evidence, such as DNA, fingerprint, and forensic analysis, that may show your innocence. Expert witnesses can also rebut evidence the prosecution presents, making the prosecution's case less credible.
Your criminal defense attorney may work with you and the prosecutor to negotiate a plea bargain. This deal often takes into account your criminal record, including criminal convictions. A plea deal might lessen the punishment you face or even lead to some of the charges against you being dropped.
If you're defending yourself and without a lawyer, prosecutors may not want to make a deal with you.
Consequences of Pleading Guilty
Your attorney can easily explain some of the hidden costs that accompany pleading guilty. Many people that represent themselves never think about the consequences of pleading guilty since doing so leads to a shorter sentence. For example, if you plead guilty, you may find it very hard to find a job once you've completed your punishment. An attorney will make sure you understand all your options before you plead.
After a period of time, certain crimes can be eligible for expungement. Expungement is a legal process allowing a criminal record or conviction to be erased from public view. Once a record is expunged, the individual can deny or acknowledge the criminal event in most situations. However, the specifics of what can be expunged and the effects of expungement vary by jurisdiction and the nature of the crime or record.
Your attorney will suggest a realistic sentence for your situation. If you're found guilty, your criminal defense attorney may be able to convince the judge to change your sentence. Often, the punishment is changed in a way that would prevent you from winding back into the criminal justice system.
For instance, instead of going to prison for 10 months for a drug possession conviction, your criminal defense attorney may suggest a prison sentence of six months and then four months in a drug treatment facility. This approach aims to help you with the drug problem that landed you in trouble in the first place.
As hard as it might be to hear, an attorney has the years of experience and training in legal services needed to provide you with a reality check. Defense lawyers know what's going on much better than you will during your criminal trial. They also can predict how a case is going and what the judge or outcome of the jury trial may be.
Your defense attorney has the advantage of:
- Being objective throughout a proceeding
- Offering realistic insights into how the trial is actually going
These assessments and reality checks are often essential when a criminal defendant is deciding whether to accept a prosecutor's plea bargain. This is especially so when a more serious crime, such as a felony case, federal crime, violent crime, or sexual assault, is under consideration.
Nothing Replaces Courtroom Experience
Understanding the ebbs and flows of a criminal trial can make the difference between winning and losing your case.
"Prosecutorial discretion" is a prime example of these ebbs and flows. Even the simple decision of what to charge a criminal defendant with can be complex. This can make all the difference in how a case is handled.
For example, what may appear to be a simple crime on paper could realistically be cast to be a multiple-count indictment or a simple misdemeanor. Criminal defense lawyers are skilled at negotiating with prosecutors to determine what counts to charge.
State-Specific People and Systems
Most people find it hard to navigate their case through the state legal system where the case is being heard. There are written rules, such as the local rules of court, that must be obeyed and followed. There are also often many unwritten rules that go along with each jurisdiction.
For example, let's say only certain prosecutors can make and approve plea bargains. Your criminal defense lawyer may save you time (and maybe even jail time) by talking to the right person initially.
Rules and Regulations
While you can read books on criminal defense, it takes years of study to grasp this area of law. Most criminal defense lawyers have years of experience. In addition, some criminal defense attorneys specialize in certain areas of criminal defense law, such as DUIs, sex crimes, domestic violence, drug crimes, and white-collar crimes, including embezzlement. Your attorney will point out important court opinions, legal rules, and regulations that you most likely wouldn't find on your own.
For example, if you were to represent yourself, you may never know if the search that the police conducted of your apartment was lawful or not. To know this, you must understand the many nuances and intricacies surrounding the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Lawyers, including criminal defense attorneys, are governed by ethical standards known as Rules of Professional Conduct that dictate their behavior and responsibilities. These standards, enforced by state bar associations, cover a range of issues, including confidentiality, conflict of interest, and the duty to represent clients zealously.
Confidentiality ensures that lawyers cannot disclose any information related to the representation of a client without the client's informed consent. This ensures that clients can fully disclose all necessary information to their attorney without fear of it being used against them.
The duty to zealously represent clients obliges lawyers to advocate for their client's interests as strongly as possible within the bounds of the law. This means doing their best to achieve the client's legal objectives while respecting legal and ethical boundaries.
Conflict of interest rules require that an attorney avoid representing clients in situations where the interests of different clients conflict or where there might be a conflict between the interests of the attorney and the client.
Violating these ethical standards can lead to disciplinary action, including disbarment, fines, or other penalties.
This brings to mind an important question: Can a criminal lawyer represent someone they know or suspect is guilty of the crime of which they have been accused? Yes. Criminal lawyers can represent you even if they think you might be guilty. However, defense attorneys can't lie or intentionally mislead the court. There are some situations, though, where an attorney might have to share client information, such as when it's necessary to stop someone from getting severely hurt or dying.
Reading Books Can't Replace Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Some criminal defendants seek to represent themselves by researching and reading books. However, reading books that spell out crimes, punishments, and defenses probably won't lead you to victory in your case.
As any seasoned lawyer will tell you, there's quite a vast difference between reading about the law and actually practicing the law in court.
What questions should you ask a criminal lawyer?
Most criminal law attorneys don't handle every type of criminal case. There is a large difference between defending a DUI and defending a client charged with murder. It is crucial to hire an attorney who has experience in the charges you are facing, especially if you are facing felony charges and drug charges or have a case pending in federal court.
You should also communicate well with the attorney and feel comfortable being honest with them and the approach they will take in court. Not every attorney is a fit for every client.
You should ask a prospective attorney these types of questions:
- How long have you practiced law?
- Have you handled a case like this?
- What percentage of your time is spent on this specific type of case?
- Do you focus on a certain practice area of criminal law?
- What information do you need/should I prepare for our first meeting?
- How do you handle fees? (Hourly, on retainer, per case, payment plans, credit cards, etc.)
What does someone need to do to become a criminal lawyer?
A degree in criminal law requires the following:
- A four-year degree from an accredited university
- Three years of school from an accredited law school
- A Juris Doctor degree
- Passing the bar exam in the state in which they want to practice
- A license to practice law
If supervised by a licensed attorney, law students can appear in court while still in law school.
Many law students will also intern at a law firm before they are hired at a firm. Once hired, attorneys will likely shadow more experienced attorneys to learn the ropes before taking major cases.
Experienced attorneys will have years of experience in and out of court under their belt. Still, newer attorneys are often cheaper to hire. Consider which level of experience better suits your needs.
Get Professional Help From a Criminal Defense Attorney
As you can see, a good criminal defense lawyer can help you with your criminal charges. They can also improve your chances of winning your case or obtaining a more favorable plea bargain.
Even if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney, nothing is keeping you from speaking with an experienced attorney to obtain a second opinion and additional legal advice about the legal issues that you face.
If you're really set on representing yourself in court, you should, at the very least, retain the best criminal defense lawyer possible to act as a coach during your trial. This can help you obtain the best possible outcome.
You can find an experienced criminal defense attorney near you. Start by reading reviews and testimonials or having a free phone consultation to ask questions about your case.