What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?
Criminal defense attorneys research the facts, investigate the case against their clients and try to negotiate deals with their adversaries (prosecutors). These deals may include reduced bail, reduced charges, and reduced sentences. Because of a number of factors—political and public pressure, overcrowded jails, overloaded court calendars—deal-making has grown in importance and has become an essential element in unclogging the criminal justice system.
Criminal defense attorneys also examine witnesses, help formulate a plea, analyze the prosecutor’s case, assess the potential sentences (and the likelihood of a particular judge awarding such a sentence), review search and seizure procedures, question witnesses, and gather evidence. Defense counsel also provide more personal services by giving the defendant a reality check as to the possible outcomes, and by helping the defendant to deal with the frustrations, humiliations, and fears resulting from being thrown into the criminal justice system. And of course, if no plea deal can be made, the defense lawyer represents the defendant at trial.
Why are Criminal Defense Attorneys Important?
Criminal law is a complex body of state and federal legislation. In fact, each state often sets its own definitions and punishments for state crimes. The majority of crimes are state crimes. Exceptions include causing damage to federal property or inflicting injury upon a federal employee.
The average person will not have an understanding of criminal law or the criminal justice process. Unfortunately ignorance or failing to understand criminal law is rarely an adequate defense to avoid being found guilty.
Although an individual has the right to represent himself or herself during criminal trial proceedings, the consequences of having poor legal representation can be severe. Misdemeanors, which are lesser crimes, might only entail a fine or a brief jail sentence, but felonies, which are more serious crimes, can lead to long prison terms. This is why it is so important to have someone knowledgeable about the law argue on your behalf.
Criminal Lawyer Skills & Competencies
Criminal lawyers must possess a variety of additional skills to succeed in their jobs, including the following:
- Writing and speaking skills: Excellent oral and written advocacy skills in order to argue a client’s case before a judge and persuade a jury.
- Research and investigative skills: Investigative and research skills are also important in building a client’s case and establishing a strong defense.
- Creative and analytical skills: Strong creative thinking and analytical skills to develop a legal strategy, analyze case law and litigate complex cases.
- Legal knowledge and experience: In-depth understanding of state, federal and local rules, court procedures, evidentiary laws, and local judges to navigate the criminal justice system efficiently and competently.
- Interpersonal skills: Excellent interpersonal skills are necessary to build a strong client-attorney relationship. Criminal defendants are a finicky group who sometimes go through many lawyers before settling on one they like. Therefore, the ability to attract and retain clients is essential to a thriving criminal defense practice.
Top 10 Attributes of an Effective Defense Attorney
Attorneys defend the rights of all sorts of criminals, from drug dealers to murderers. Although the public may view them with disdain — particularly if they win cases for their clients — defense attorneys have an important role. It is the right of every American to have a fair trial, and it is the defense attorney’s responsibility to see that it happens. His attributes and skills ensure that he fills that role.
A defense attorney, as with all lawyers, must have a high level of integrity. He must be honest with his client, keeping him informed of the progress of his case and the likely outcome of the proceedings.
- Research Skills
He must be able to conduct research — not only legal research to find precedents and other cases with a bearing on his, but also research into the alleged crime committed by his client and circumstances that the police may have overlooked.
- Negotiating Skills
The overwhelming number of legal cases are settled out of court. Defense and prosecutors negotiate agreements and take them to the judge for his approval. The defense attorney must be able to make the best possible deal for his client.
- Courtroom Demeanor
Courtroom proceedings are formal and proscribed. Working within the legal setting, the defense attorney must be theatrical when appropriate. He must not be intimidated by the judge or the prosecutors.
With dogged determination, the defense attorney must exploit every avenue that is available to him to defend his client. He must pursue every opportunity to sway the judge and jury if his case goes to court, and, if his client is found guilty, he must exhaust all possible appeals.
- Analytical Skills
The defense attorney should have a sharp mind and be capable of making quick judgments. Whether negotiating a settlement, challenging the prosecution or making his arguments to the jury, the defense attorney must be thinking all the time.
Having knowledge of the intricacies of the law is vital to his performance. So is his knowledge of the mannerisms and personalities of the judges who preside over his cases and the prosecutors who oppose him.
The attorney is a skilled communicator. He is an excellent speaker and uses his skill in and out of the courtroom. His writing skills are also of the highest caliber which he demonstrates in his ability to write briefs and other documents.
- Understands Police
The defense attorney is on good terms with the police. He understand what they do and is able to extract information from them. His knowledge helps him better understand the evidence against his client.
The defense attorney must care about his client, the client’s family and the consequences of the verdict. A guilty verdict, even with no jail sentence, could affect the client’s professional licenses and have additional consequences if his immigration status comes into question.
10 Tips to Help You Find the Best Criminal Defense Attorney
If you already understand the importance of having an excellent attorney when you’re facing a criminal charge, the next step is finding the best criminal defense attorney to represent you. Not all lawyers are created the same, and finding the right attorney can make all the difference when it comes to putting up the best defense possible.
Taking the time to seek out the best defense attorney can ensure you are represented in the best light possible when you go to court. Although the process of searching for a lawyer can seem daunting, especially when dealing with the repercussions of a criminal charge, this is arguably one of the most important steps of the entire case. Here are ten tips to help you find the best Las Vegas criminal defense attorney.
- An Attorney Should Be Responsive
When you’re facing a criminal charge, time is of the essence. Time lost is a case lost. You need a criminal defense attorney that’s going to get to work on the case right away.
When you contact a lawyer, they should respond quickly. Their legal team should be able to arrange a meeting with you within one day. If they’re quick to answer to your phone call or email, they’re probably going to be equally on the ball when it comes to defending you.
- The Right Attorney Specializes in Criminal Law
Although they don’t have to practice criminal law exclusively, the right attorney at least specializes in criminal law. If you don’t see anything on the attorney’s website about criminal law, it’s likely that they’re not the right lawyer for your needs.
The practice of law is just that — practice. Your attorney needs regular involvement in criminal law to stay up to date on the nuances of this type of law and the best possible defenses.
- Choose Someone Experienced in the Local Courts
In addition to finding a lawyer that’s qualified in criminal law, you should look for an attorney that’s experienced in the local courts. This aspect of deciding on the right attorney is one that is often overlooked, but local connections and relationships can go a long way when fighting a criminal charge.
Not only does each court do things their own way, but each judge does things their own way too. Knowing the ins and outs of the court you’re up against can help you create a winning strategy for your case.
- Check Reputable Sources
You can learn a lot about an attorney on the internet. Some of these sources are reputable, and some are not. You can check the State Bar of Nevada to see if a lawyer has any formal discipline on their record. This is a good place to start, but your research shouldn’t stop there.
Some websites like Google+ and Facebook don’t let attorneys remove bad reviews, so these websites can be a good place to look at what other clients have to say. Other sites help attorneys paint a rosy picture. While you don’t want to count an attorney out because of one bad review, reading reviews can give you a general idea of what other clients have to say about them and their services.
- Ask for Referrals
One of the best ways to find the right attorney for you is asking your friends and family if they know any good lawyers. Those with first-hand knowledge of how an attorney operates can help offer you insight into how they will handle your case.
Also, if you use a lawyer for business or estate planning matters, you can ask them who they recommend for a criminal case. Word of mouth can be a great way to get an honest opinion especially when the person you’re asking wants what’s best for you.
- The Right Attorney Knows the Basics Off the Top of Their Head
An attorney doesn’t have to know everything without having to look things up, but they should know the basics of the most common crimes. They should be able to explain to you the possible and likely penalties for the charges against you.
They should know the questions to ask you to determine if nuances apply to the case. The best criminal defense attorney has a certain level of familiarity and comfort with the laws and the criminal justice system.
- Look for a Clear Fee Structure
The best defense attorney doesn’t want confusion about their bill. Instead, they’re going to explain in simple terms how they bill and give you an idea of what you can expect regarding their fees for services and the total cost of your defense.
The least expensive lawyer isn’t always best. Instead, you should ask what their services include and make sure that your attorney is up for mounting a vigorous defense.
- Gauge Their Enthusiasm
Some attorneys work harder than others. You will want a lawyer that conducts a thorough investigation. They should go to trial when it’s best to go to trial, and they should encourage you to accept a plea offer only when it’s really in your best interest. When it’s time to decide whether to go to trial or accept a plea, the right attorney can articulate what choice they feel is in your best interest and why.
The way to find this attorney is to look for enthusiasm. While your attorney should be experienced, the number of years of experience isn’t everything. The right attorney has a certain level of sincere interest in their work, and they must be eager to dive into your case on your behalf.
- They Have Courtroom Confidence
One type of experience that matters is courtroom experience. Criminal trials move fast. Sometimes, your attorney has mere seconds to make an objection that could impact the outcome of the case. Make sure your attorney has enough experience to know the court rules and have confidence and comfort in a court hearing.
In this regard, you can judge a book by its cover. If an attorney has a neat appearance and is well spoken when you meet with them, they’re likely to be the same way in court. The attorney you choose speaks on your behalf. When you meet, you should like the way they present themselves, because they’re going to be speaking for you.
- They Take Direction From You
Ultimately, your criminal charge is yours to defend. Your attorney should control the specific methods of mounting your defense like filing court motions and what witnesses to call, but the big decisions are up to you.
It’s up to you to decide if you plead guilty or go to trial. Your attorney should take the time to understand your goals and priorities and take them into account when they’re helping you make your action plan.