Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you are the subject of a criminal investigation or are arrested and charged with committing a crime, you are most likely experiencing lots of fear and anxiety, you need criminal defense advocacy. Whether you engaged in criminal activity, were at the wrong place at the wrong time, or have been falsely accused — you are presumed innocent until proven guilty and are entitled to a strong defense under the Constitution. There are some vital items to consider for your criminal defense, here we will outline them in detail.
Criminal Defense: The Most Important Steps
The most important thing you can do right now is to find a qualified criminal defense attorney to fight the charges against you.If you are considering defending yourself, you should know that you will face tremendous adversity. The criminal court process is incredibly complex and therefore difficult to navigate alone. In fact, you need to have an acute understanding of criminal law and sophisticated litigation and negotiation skills. The latter is just too steep a hill to climb and not worth the risk.
A Conviction Is Life Changing
The repercussions of a conviction are life-changing. In fact, depending on the severity of the crime in question, penalties can range from monetary fines for minor offenses to probation, jail or prison time for more serious offenses.
The collateral consequences stemming from a conviction can be just as devastating and may include damage to your reputation or strain on your relationships, loss of future job prospects, ineligibility to apply for loans, and more.
Can I Use a Public Defender?
If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you have the right to a court-appointed public defender. In fact, every state has a Public Defender’s Office. It’s worth noting that public defenders are often overworked and underpaid. In fact, they manage heavy caseloads under tight budget constraints.
A public defender isn’t necessarily motivated to offer you the personalized attention you deserve nor do they have the time to develop a customized defense strategy needed to achieve a favorable outcome.
Private Criminal Defense
Before agreeing to be represented by a public defender, you should consider reaching out to a private criminal defense attorney first. Most criminal defense firms offer free initial consultations and work on a contingency fee basis which means there are no upfront costs and they only get paid if they win your case. Therefore, it’s possible that, with the right firm, you may be may be able to arrange a manageable payment plan.
Benefits of Hiring a Private Criminal Defense Attorney
Having a qualified criminal defense attorney by your side gives you the best chance at obtaining a case dismissal, sentence reduction or acquittal. Here are just a few of the specific ways a criminal defense attorney can assist you:
Safeguards your constitutional rights: An attorney can inform you of your constitutional rights and preserve those rights at every step of the criminal process.
Legal Knowledge and Expertise: Criminal defense attorneys have studied and trained to be experts in their field. They know and understand every aspect of criminal law and criminal court procedures. When an attorney is involved, you never have to worry about making errors in legal documents or missing court deadlines or saying something that could damage your case.
Provides Analysis and Explanation of Your Case: An attorney can help you understand the nature of the charges filed against you and to make recommendations for the best course of action to take going forward. He/she can offer an honest assessment of the impact that potential penalties you face will have on your life in the short and long-term.
Access to Relevant Resources: An experienced criminal defense lawyer has access to a vast network of resources including private investigators, medical practitioners, and expert witnesses that can strengthen your case through testimony and refute the prosecution’s arguments against you.
Investigative Capabilities: A competent attorney will conduct an independent investigation to look at the situation from every angle, this includes gathering new evidence while thoroughly scrutinizing existing facts. They will track down witnesses and determine their credibility, visit the scene of the crime, review police report to see if law enforcement handled your arrest appropriately and legally, etc.
Development of a Sound, Effective Defense Strategy: A defense strategy emerges after a defense lawyer has listened to your version of what happened and reviewed the evidence presented by the prosecution as well as from their internal investigation. A defense attorney will build a strategy that aims to raise doubt and question the validity of the prosecution’s evidence or affirms your innocence.
File Motions: An attorney can file motions with the court requesting a firm decision during a case. Typically motion’s include:
- Motion to Dismiss — an attempt to get a judge to dismiss the case due to lack of evidence
- Motion to Suppress — an effort to get the judge to exclude evidence that obtained in violation of your constitutional rights
- Motion to Release Evidence — an attempt to get the prosecution to produce evidence that was not already made available
Negotiate with Prosecutor: A criminal defense attorney can negotiate directly with the prosecutor in a bid to secure a plea deal in place of a trial.
Depending on the facts of your case, your attorney may try to get the prosecutor to
- drop or reduce some charges to a lesser offense (i.e. misdemeanor to an infraction or felony to misdemeanor)
- agree to a less harsh sentence or alternative diversionary program
Nearly 90% of criminal cases get resolved through plea bargaining, which means that less than 10% proceed to trial.
Prepare for Trial: A good criminal defense lawyer will always prepare for trial, so if you don’t get a plea deal, they are ready to defend you in court on day one.
Devoted Advocacy and Emotional Support: Being charged with a crime can cause you to feel a variety of emotions ranging from fear, depression, anger, and anxiety. A criminal defense attorney can provide professional yet compassionate support to help you cope with these feelings. They will be there to keep you informed about what is happening
What to Look for in a Criminal Defense Attorney
- Reputation as a specialist in criminal law
- Track record in defending criminal cases
- Familiarity with the local criminal justice system/court rules and criminal statutes in your city, county or state
- Provide a Fee structure that is upfront and transparent
Types of Criminal Charges
Most crimes are in the class of either infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies.
- An infraction is the least severe and defined as a minor violation that usually results in a citation or penalty. Traffic offenses are the most common type of offense.
- A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction but less severe than a felony. Punishment for a crime may include payment of a fine, probation, community service, restitution, and up to one year in county jail.
- A felony is the most serious criminal offense and often involves serious physical harm to another person. A felony conviction is punishable by a year or more in state prison.
Typical Criminal Offenses
- Traffic violations
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Domestic violence
- Violent crimes
- White collar crimes
- Sex crimes
Advantages of Hiring a Former Prosecutor to Handle Your Criminal Case
It’s not uncommon for attorneys who have spent years prosecuting cases to make the switch to defending the accused. A criminal defense attorney with prior experience working as a prosecutor can provide unique value to you in your criminal case. Being championed by a former prosecutor is advantageous because they know how to look at a situation from both sides of the courtroom. They understand the prosecutor’s thought process in how they file charges, gather evidence, build a case and pursue convictions. A former prosecutor knows where to look for weaknesses and can exploit this to your advantage.
If it becomes necessary to negotiate a plea bargain in your case, a former prosecutor has a good idea how far the District Attorney will go in making a deal which can give your attorney leverage to negotiate a deal that works in your favor.
Understanding the Criminal Justice Process
Knowing what to expect in a criminal case may help to alleviate some of the initial uncertainty you may be feeling.
Arrest: For a police officer to arrest you, they must have probable cause or reason to believe that a crime was committed. Following an arrest, there are certain steps you can take to protect your rights and strengthen your case
Do’s and Don’ts After an Arrest
Remain Silent: Beyond offering identification information, you are under no obligation to speak with law enforcement. If police, investigators, or prosecutors want to question you and a defense attorney is not present, you run the risk of unintentionally implicating yourself.
Call an Attorney: The sooner you get a lawyer involved in your case, the better. You do not want to make statements to authorities for use against you later. A defense attorney can intervene at the beginning of a police investigation and influence the filing decision of any formal criminal charges. They can locate witnesses, gather evidence, and develop a defense strategy early on, as well as prevent you from doing or saying something that could hurt your case.
- resist arrest or attempt to flee the scene
- get into an argument with the police or initiate physical contact
- give the authorities permission to search anything unless they have a warrant signed by a judge
- agree to participate in a lineup without having your attorney present
Within 24 hours of your arrest, you will attend a bond or bail hearing. The purpose of a bond hearing is for a judge to determine whether or not you will be:
a.) released from police custody of your own recognizance b.) given a bail amount to be paid before release, or c.) denied bail and kept in custody.
Bail is a set sum of money payable to the court to ensure you will return for scheduled court dates and comply with all the conditions established by the judge. However, if the alleged offense is minor, you will most likely be released without posting bail.
A judge will consider the following factors when setting bail:
- the seriousness of the alleged crime
- your criminal history
- whether you have ties to the community — friends, family, church, employment
Most jails have a bond schedule which specifies the amounts paid for a particular crime.
A criminal defense attorney attends the bond hearing with you to advocate on your behalf. Additionally, the attorney provides evidence to establish that you are not a flight risk or a danger to the community. He states that you have every intention to appear at your scheduled court date. If the bail amount is set unreasonably high, your attorney can negotiate a reduction. Additionally, your attorney will call on character witnesses to vouch for you.
If there is no reduction in bail and you can’t afford it, use the services of a bail bondsman. A bondsman agrees to pay the full amount of bail to the court. However, you pay a non-refundable fee which is around 10% of the amount of bail posted.
*individual states such as Illinois and Kentucky don’t allow for the use of a bail bondsman
Preliminary Hearing for Felony Charge
A preliminary hearing is required if charged with a felony. At this hearing, the prosecutor must provide sufficient evidence that there is probable cause that you committed a crime. Then, your attorney will have the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented and cross-examine witnesses.
Common Defenses to Criminal Charges
The prosecutor bears the burden of proving that you committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a defense attorney will evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s evidence against you. Then, he chooses a strategy.
Getting Evidence Against You Thrown out in Court
The potentially damaging evidence is thrown out when obtained by an illegal search and seizure. In fact, this would be a violation of your fourth amendment rights.
The basis for an illegal search and seizure may include:
- police conducting a search without a warrant and probable cause
- police searching with a defective search warrant
- or doing a search that exceeded the scope of the order.
Additional ways evidence is determined inadmissible:
- a confession obtained illegally
- police misconduct in gathering, maintaining or testing physical evidence
An insanity defense claims that you cannot be responsible for the crime because you were not mentally stable when the offense was committed. You defense attorney must prove that you were unable to distinguish right from wrong to succeed. Additionally, if you have a documented mental disorder, this case could prove effective.
The alibi asserts that you couldn’t have committed the crime because you were somewhere else when the crime took place; evidence shown through eyewitness testimony, phone records, photographs, video footage, credit card records, etc.
These are Self-defense strategies used in murder and assault and battery cases. It is meant to prove that you responded with force because you believed your life was in immediate danger.
Accidents happen, and sometimes accidents lead to crimes. Therefore, to use the accident defense, prove that there was no intent to commit a crime.
If law enforcement coerced you into committing a crime you otherwise would not have committed, a defense arguing entrapment can be used.