Being accused of a crime can be a very stressful situation that requires those unfamiliar with the criminal justice system to become fast acquainted with the ins and outs of the courtroom. For those who have never been arrested it is not all that uncommon to have no idea what a defense attorney is, what they can do for you, and when to hire one. If you have recently been accused of a crime or have in general asked yourself “what is a defense attorney?”, here’s an explanation of what a defense attorney is, what they do, and situations in which you should hire one.
What is A Defense Attorney?
A defense attorney is a person who is trained in representing a defendant in court proceedings, with every US citizen being entitled to legal representation for criminal charges. While individuals have the right to defend themselves in court, a defense attorney is incredibly beneficial in navigating the justice system and often aids in attaining the best possible outcome for one’s case.
What Does A Defense Attorney Do?
Defense attorneys often specialize in defending a particular type of case (such as a criminal, family, or civil case) and are known for assisting clients throughout the legal process, providing clients with legal counsel, and preparing a client’s defense. In truth, to ensure a favorable verdict for their clients, defense attorneys take on a much more extensive role than this. The following are some lesser-known duties of a defense attorney:
- Investigation: Before a trial has begun a defense attorney must review the case as a whole to determine the presence of any evidence that could lead to an acquittal or not guilty verdict. This can include talking to the police regarding their handling of the case, collecting information from witnesses, and finding expert witnesses who can strengthen one’s case. A defense attorney may also examine and independently test the physical evidence that is being used in one’s case.
- Plea Bargaining: If, after a closer look it is determined that a case may not fare well on trial, an attorney can bargain with the prosecution for a plea deal. A Plea deal occurs when a defendant is likely to be found guilty in court and therefore agrees to plead guilty to lesser charges to secure a more favorable sentence.
- Juror Selection: If a case is brought to trial a defense attorney is a crucial part of the juror selection process. During jury selection, both the defense and prosecution have the opportunity to question the jurors. This is important in ensuring that the jury holds no bias against the defendant and has no preexisting awareness of the case.
- Sentencing Aid: In the event of a guilty verdict, a defense attorney will continue to represent their client during the sentencing period. Prior to sentencing, the probation department is legally required to provide the prosecution and defense with a sentencing report which provides a recommendation for a sentencing period. A defense attorney can review this report and submit a “Statement of Mitigation” that can persuade the court into offering a shorter sentencing period than initially recommended. A defense attorney can also help their client determine if the sentence handed down to them was unjust. If an attorney suspects judicial wrongdoing in the sentencing process, they can help bring forth an appeal that, if won, provides the opportunity for a defendant to be resentenced at a new sentencing hearing.
When Should I Hire A Defense Attorney?
With a deeper understanding of what a defense attorney is, you’re probably wondering what situations warrant hiring a defense attorney. While many opt to represent themselves or acquire a public defender for simple infractions such as speeding tickets, in most instances, and especially when charged with a misdemeanor or felony, it is wise to enlist the help of a defense attorney to assure the best possible outcome for one’s case. While retaining a defense attorney can often be an unaccounted-for expense, it is usually important to prioritize expert representation over money if accused of a serious crime, as being found guilty can result in years of lost wages and impact future educational, work, or housing opportunities. All in all, if you’re unsure about how to navigate the criminal justice system or court proceedings, your safest bet is hiring a defense attorney.