Hiring a seasoned criminal defense attorney is one of the most important steps you can take when you are arrested or charged with a crime. While you might not need legal representation if you are dealing with minor infractions such as basic speeding tickets, for anything more substantial, the assistance of a criminal defense attorney is crucial to helping you plead your case and maintain your innocence.
You should beware, however, that not all criminal defense attorneys are equal and not all of them specialize in the type of law related to your case. When searching and then interviewing criminal defense lawyers it is best to take your time and find one you feel you can trust and has experience handling matters similar to yours.
What Do Criminal Defense Attorneys Do?
Criminal defense attorneys are lawyers who defend clients that have been accused of a crime or are facing charges for illegal activity. The kinds cases criminal defense attorneys handle can include:
A criminal defense attorney will interview you to find out what happened. Once your story has been told, the lawyer will interview witnesses, review any official documentation such as police reports, and further investigate the case.
If your lawyer finds the police failed to honor your rights while they were questioning or arresting you, they may petition the judge to have testimony or evidence dismissed. In some cases, they might even try to get all charges dropped.
Because criminal defense lawyers are adept at analyzing how police interacted with their clients and can potentially get evidence dismissed or charges dropped, it is advantageous to hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after interactions with police.
Based on your situation, your criminal defense attorney will also advise you on the best course of action. This could include a plea bargain or agreement you decide to make with the state.
A plea bargain is essentially a deal the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney (in consultation with the defendant) make in which the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to lesser charges. There are many reasons both sides might agree to such a deal. The prosecution might not have enough evidence to convict the defendant of higher charges or they might believe leaving the decision up to a jury is too risky.
The defendant might agree to a plea bargain because it means he or she will have a more lenient sentence. Either way, a criminal defense attorney plays a huge role in negotiating a plea bargain that has fair terms for their client. You should note, however, that all decisions and plea bargains are up to the defendant. If you don’t like the terms your lawyer is able to negotiate, you are free to reject them.
If your case does move toward a trial, your lawyer will handle every aspect of your case accordingly. This could include:
- Preliminary motions and hearings
- Jury selection
- Arguing your case
- Filing an appeal if a guilty verdict is returned
Because trials can be extremely complex, you may want to hire a lawyer with plenty of courtroom experience if it seems like your case might be headed for trial.
When to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
As noted above, the earlier you can hire a criminal defense attorney the better. When a lawyer is brought in on a case early on in the process it can greatly increase the chances of an outcome that is favorable to the defendant. This is because the lawyer will know the details surrounding the case from day one and will begin to work on mounting a defense immediately.
The defense your lawyer crafts for you could be based on your alibi, lack of evidence on the part of the prosecution, or an infringement of your rights by the investigating officers. The sooner any of these matters are brought to light and presented by your lawyer, the better your chances of moving past your charges unscathed.
What is the Difference Between a Criminal Defense Attorney and a Public Defender?
According to the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, every individual accused of a crime has the right to legal counsel. For those who can’t afford to hire a lawyer of their own, a public defender is assigned to handle their case.
While this right to counsel is a cherished right and many public defenders work diligently and faithfully to defend their clients, there are several advantages to hiring a criminal defense attorney of your own:
- Criminal defense attorneys generally handle fewer cases than public defenders. Recent reports have surfaced that some public defenders have nearly 200 cases they are working on at one time. This means your lawyer will be able to spend more time and give more attention to your case if you hire your own criminal defense attorney.
- Criminal defense attorneys generally have more experience than public defenders. When dealing with matters that can greatly affect your future it is important that you have an advocate who is experienced.
- You can choose which criminal defense attorney to hire whereas public defenders are assigned to you. There are many reasons a lawyer might not be a good fit for you or your case. When you get to choose who represents you, you can pick and choose the best lawyer for you.
It might be best to only go with a public defender if you cannot afford a criminal defense attorney of your own. If you do have the means of securing counsel, hiring a criminal defense attorney that specializes in the types of cases you are dealing with, has years of experience in the courtroom, and can dedicate their time to you and your case is the best move to make. They will work tirelessly to make sure you are well defended and receive an outcome that is fair and just.