What is a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
A criminal defense lawyer specializes in representing clients arrested for and charged with crimes. They defend their clients in hearings, plea bargains, and trials. They use defense arguments and present evidence to prove their client’s innocence or to get a fair sentence if they are guilty.
Many criminal defense lawyers work for private firms. When a person arrested for a crime cannot afford a private lawyer, they may qualify for a public defender, a criminal defense lawyer, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. Public defenders work for their clients and defend them but are paid by the government and appointed by the courts.
What Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Do?
Criminal defense lawyers represent and defend people charged with criminal acts. This role means they do many different things for their clients, whether they are private attorneys or public defenders:
- Investigate the crime and gather evidence.
- Talk to witnesses and experts for testimony.
- Negotiate with the prosecutors.
- Get deals for their clients that may include reduced sentences or reduced charges.
- Gather information about the prosecution’s case.
- Use evidence, testimony, and the prosecution’s case to formulate a strategy for a defense.
- Argue on behalf of the defendant in court and in front of a judge and jury.
- Counsel their clients on important legal decisions.
When Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you have been arrested for a crime and charged with criminal acts, you need a criminal defense lawyer. You may be able to hire a lawyer from a private firm. If you cannot, request that the court assign you a public defender. You have a right to be represented.
Can I Represent Myself?
It is in your best interests to have a lawyer, no matter how minor the charges seem. Self-representation is known as pro se. Some defendants choose this option and prefer to represent themselves. The final decision about pro se belongs to the judge, though. The judge determines if the defendant is competent enough to forgo a lawyer.
What Are the Benefits of Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Think long and hard before deciding you want to forgo your right to legal representation, even if your charges are minor and the penalties don’t include incarceration. There are several benefits to working with a criminal defense lawyer when you have been charged with a crime:
- A thorough investigation
A defense lawyer has the resources, experience, and connections to be able to investigate the crime and build a good defense.
- Advice on pleading
You will have the choice to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest when charged with a crime. The right choice is not necessarily obvious. A criminal defense lawyer understands the consequences of each and can give you good advice on how to plead.
- A plea bargain
A lawyer stands a much better chance of getting you a deal in a plea bargain. Before trial, they will negotiate with the prosecution to get your sentence reduced or even to reduce the charges and any fines. Prosecutors negotiate with defenders to save the court time and money, but they may not negotiate with you if you have no representation.
- Courtroom experience
Without legal representation, you will have to argue your defense in court. You don’t have the same experience as a lawyer, which is to your detriment. A lawyer can ensure a better outcome because of past experiences and knowledge of courtroom procedure.
- A better sentence
Criminal defense lawyers have a say in sentencing if their clients are convicted of crimes. They understand the rules of sentencing, know the precedents and know what it takes to get a more lenient penalty.
How Do I Request a Public Defender?
Everyone is entitled to legal representation, which means if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court system must provide you one at no cost. To get a public defender to handle your case, you must make a request through the court. The process begins at arraignment, when the judge should ask if you have a lawyer or if you need one appointed.
You will also have to share your financial information. If the court determines you have a financial need, they will appoint a defender. If you don’t qualify but still need assistance, you may be able to work with a public defender at a reduced cost. The exact financial qualifications vary by state.
Hiring a Private Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have the means, you can be choosy about the lawyer representing you. Many firms specialize in criminal defense. Choose someone you feel comfortable working with, who has plenty of experience and good referrals, and who is local to your state and area. Ask plenty of questions before hiring any attorney to represent and defend you:
- How long have you practiced law?
- How long have you been in criminal defense?
- Have you ever handled a case like mine?
- Do you have a specialty area in criminal law?
- Can you provide me with outcomes for past clients?
- What do you need from me to defend me?
- Will you go for a plea bargain or go to trial?
- What are your fees?
Once you have a lawyer to help you, be open and honest about everything related to the crime. They need to know the truth, even if it implicates you so that they can provide the best defense and get you the best sentence possible.
Working with a criminal defense lawyer is necessary if you are being charged with a crime. It’s not a situation anyone wants to be in, but who represents you is instrumental in the outcome. Choose wisely and follow your lawyer’s advice to avoid the worst.