Criminal lawyers defend suspects at trial, providing legal counsel, advice, and representation. When a defendant cannot afford his or her own attorney, the state provides a public defender. However, many criminal lawyers work apart from their states through private firms. Unlike prosecutors, criminal attorneys often become involved earlier in the process. In many cases, they start providing legal assistance before charges are formally filed. Criminal defense attorneys routinely perform these tasks, among others:
- Helping suspects who have requested a lawyer’s presence during interrogations and other police procedures
- Assisting clients during crucial pre-trial meetings
- Researching the laws and facts involved in a case
- Defending suspects in the courtroom during a trial
- Using defense strategies such as self-defense or defense of property
- Interviewing witnesses
- Filing for retrial or an appeal
Many criminal attorneys work with their clients well after the trial is over. This is because a client may need help with after-trial issues such as probation or parole.
The Difficulty of Finding a Defense Lawyer
Finding an effective defense attorney is often difficult. In all criminal proceedings, defendants have the right to legal representation. However, when a defendant has a specific issue, they may be better off hiring a private attorney than relying on a public defender.
In such a case, learning how to find an attorney is the first step to success. Suspects must identify the issues that may come to the forefront during the trial, as they must be able to inform the attorney of the case’s facts so they can begin to build a defense.
In the criminal justice system, it’s crucial for defendants to find lawyers who are experienced with the local court system and its prosecutors. While every attorney has to start somewhere, it’s better to hire one with years of experience than to choose an attorney who just completed law school.
How to Find a Criminal Attorney
Knowing how to find an attorney removes much of the guesswork from the search. If a defendant needs advice on finding a lawyer, below are a few methods as well as their benefits and disadvantages.
- The telephone book: This is one of the oldest and most traditional ways to find an attorney. Most phone books have entire sections devoted to criminal defense lawyers. However, the selection has become rather limited, as many of today’s criminal defense attorneys prefer online listings in legal directories.
- Personal recommendations and references: Sometimes, defendants can find lawyers through family members and friends who have worked with attorneys in the past. However, not everyone has experience with criminal lawyers.
- Advertisements: Many attorneys who advertise on billboards and television are criminal defense lawyers. While ads are certainly effective, there’s no real way to learn more about the lawyer’s past performance or their background.
- Online referral services: Online portals are fast becoming clients’ preferred way to find a criminal attorney. While these services aren’t that common, they typically allow prospective clients to more thoroughly search attorneys’ backgrounds. Many firms are now incorporating email and websites into their practices.
- The state bar: Every state has a bar association that lists attorneys’ names, practice areas, and other important information.
Interviewing Potential Attorneys
After finding several attorneys with whom they wish to consult, it’s time for the defendant to schedule appointments. Before doing so, they should ask whether the firm offers free consultations; it may be a good idea to talk to the lawyer on the phone before scheduling an in-person consultation. During the meeting, be sure to ask about the lawyer’s case history and criminal defense experience.
What Questions Should a Defendant Ask a Criminal Attorney?
There’s a lot at stake during a criminal trial, and a defendant shouldn’t leave their future in the hands of an inexperienced attorney. Some of the most important questions to ask are:
- Where did the attorney go to law school?
- How long have they been in criminal practice?
- Has the attorney worked with local prosecutors in the past?
- Do they have criminal trial experience?
- How does the firm handle plea deals?
- How well does the attorney know the charges the defendant faces?
By asking these questions, a potential client will get the information they need to make an informed decision.
How Much Does Criminal Representation Cost?
Lawyers have varying pricing structures; while some charge a flat rate others have a retainer and an hourly fee that comes into effect after the retainer expires. Every case is different, and the cost of an effective legal defense depends on the severity of the criminal charges, the lawyer’s trial experience, and the expected length of the case. For instance, it costs less to defend a misdemeanor case than one involving felony charges, and Federal cases often cost more.
Making Payment Arrangements
Although in most cases, a person gets what they pay for, the highest-priced lawyer isn’t necessarily the best, nor is a low rate always a bargain. When choosing a criminal defense attorney, potential clients should strike a balance between cost and experience. In some instances, paralegals and junior attorneys may do some casework, which lowers an attorney’s hourly rate. Clients may also be able to do certain tasks, such as document pickup and delivery, to cut costs even further. Finally, some attorneys offer flat fees for certain services, as well as alternative payment methods. Each has its own pros and cons, and a defendant should consider them carefully before making a decision.
Assessing a Case’s Variables
Oftentimes, cases are thrown out or dismissed because of officers’ failure to follow correct legal procedure. There have been numerous cases in which evidence has been deemed inadmissible because a skilled lawyer has found a legal process that rendered that evidence useless. Criminal law is a complex field, and in every case, there are many aspects to consider. Most defendants aren’t knowledgeable or experienced enough to focus on every variable. However, a criminal defense attorney will use his or her legal skills to form a broad but strong defense strategy.
Getting Things in Writing
Once a defendant makes a hiring choice, it’s important for both sides to understand what they’ve agreed to. How often will the attorney provide updates? What information must the client provide? Has every option been explained? What’s the total cost? If there’s any uncertainty, the client should ask for clarification. Although success isn’t a guarantee, it’s crucial to discuss all possible approaches and to get the agreement in writing.
Is it Necessary to Have a Criminal Lawyer?
Criminal defense attorneys are not required and defendants have the option to represent themselves during their cases. However, this strategy isn’t advisable, especially if a suspect is facing severe charges and a lengthy prison sentence. Public defenders are overworked and underpaid in many areas, but a private defense attorney can give a client the attention they need and deserve.
The Benefits of Hiring a Defense Attorney
When clients hire defense attorneys, they get several advantages not available via self-representation or a public defender. These include:
- Familiarity with criminal cases. Because these lawyers handle similar cases every day, they’ll be more aware of a client’s best options.
- Negotiation skills. Criminal defense attorneys know how to negotiate plea deals, which may bring reduced charges in cases where conviction is highly likely.
- Access to support staff. Most law firms have teams who can find witnesses and gather evidence to help with a plea deal or a trial defense.
- Cross-examination skills. These lawyers know how to question the prosecutor’s witnesses while remaining in compliance with the court’s rules.
- Knowledge of local and federal sentencing rules. This knowledge may help reduce a defendant’s sentence in the event of a guilty verdict.
Finally, criminal attorneys have contacts that can help clients deal with the anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues a trial may bring.
Referencing Past Cases
Because criminal defense lawyers have a wide knowledge base on statutes and laws, they can easily reference past, precedent-setting cases. At times, this practice may help a defendant increase his or her chances of success. If a lawyer isn’t familiar with a certain type of case, they can do the research required to represent the client. An individual representing themselves usually doesn’t have the knowledge or resources to do such deep research.
When to Make Changes
A defendant’s constitutional right to effective legal counsel relates solely to a private lawyer’s performance. It’s almost impossible to prove upon appeal that a hired attorney’s incompetence violates that right. If a client isn’t comfortable with their lawyer’s skills, they should consult another attorney to have the situation evaluated.
Count on a Criminal Lawyer for Case-Specific Advice
Even if a defendant admits to committing a crime and they want to enter a guilty plea, it’s still vital to consult a defense lawyer before responding to the prosecutor. At the least, a skilled criminal attorney will ensure the proportionality of the charges and they will advocate on a client’s behalf to achieve the most favorable outcome.