Criminal defense attorneys often get a bad rap from Hollywood movies and TV shows.
While plotlines frequently lead the audience to see defense attorneys as slippery creatures who routinely lie to judges, juries, and even their clients, reality lives in a different dimension than a screenplay.
What is a Criminal Defense Attorney?
The definition of a criminal defense attorney is someone who represents people facing charges for breaking the law.
Just as with any other attorney practicing law, a criminal defense attorney may choose to serve as a resource for people charged with virtually any crime or opt to focus on one specialty, like driving under the influence (DUI), drug crimes, or homicide.
What Does a Defense Attorney Do?
For each case, the role of a criminal defense attorney begins long before an actual trial begins. The basic tasks that a criminal defense lawyer will take on include the following:
Developing a strategy
After the defendant has selected an attorney, the initial steps are to size-up the case by analyzing every detail of it. The lawyer can then begin planning a defense strategy.
Preparing for court
There’s a lot of work that goes into the preparation for trying a case, and a defense attorney will lead the work being done to clear the defendant’s name. This usually includes gathering evidence, preparing any needed documents, and identifying witnesses, and preparing them to testify in court.
Negotiations with the other side
In many cases, the state’s attorney – the prosecutor – will reach out to the defense attorney to discuss a plea deal. This bargain usually requires the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for a lighter sentence. While the decision to accept the plea deal or reject it belongs solely to the defendant, the defense attorney can provide invaluable advice based upon their assumed odds for conviction or acquittal in court.
Trying the case in court
If it’s a jury trial, the defense attorney will play a key role in the selection of jurors. The defense attorney will ask questions of the potential jurors with the goal of approving those who are more likely to feel sympathetic to the defendant.
Remember, in a trial, it’s up to the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The defense attorney’s job is to look for weaknesses in the state’s case and highlight the doubts that a reasonable person would have.
The job of a criminal defense attorney doesn’t stop at the end of the trial, though.
If the court’s decision is to convict the defendant, the defense attorney can then head-up the appeal process to have the case re-examined by another court.
Do I Really Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you have been charged with a crime – even if you’re completely innocent of the charges – then yes, you do.
Here’s why you need a criminal defense attorney.
- They know the judicial system and how it works. Trust us, the judicial system is virtually a world unto itself. Even the smallest of procedures can be incredibly confusing. A criminal defense attorney has received expert training to understand the legal system and can guide you towards the best possible outcome.
- They’ve already handled cases like yours. Because this is what they do every day, a criminal defense attorney will know key areas to attack for just about any criminal charge.
- They likely have established relationships with prosecutors and judges. By being able to negotiate with a prosecutor they know, your criminal defense attorney may be able to land a better plea deal or a more manageable bond on your behalf.
- They can clear your name or get you the minimum sentence and fee. The likelihood of being cleared of all charges or at the very least receiving the minimum consequences is far more likely with a skilled criminal defense attorney representing you in court.
Even if you’re concerned about the ability to afford a defense attorney, any fees will be far less expensive than the cost of jail time or fees handed down by the court.
The Key Takeaway
Don’t let Hollywood taint your view of criminal defense lawyers. Once selected, your lawyer will be completely devoted to defending you, clearing your name completely, or ensuring you receive the lightest of penalties.