Being charged with a crime is a terrifying and frustrating process. Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, the result can be extensive jail time, harsh fees, and a permanent mark on your record, but if you work with a good criminal defense attorney, the charges could be dropped, reduced or negotiated.
When Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?
First, there is no requirement that you hire a criminal defense attorney but it may be a good idea. There are rare cases where a defendant chooses to proceed “pro se”—Latin meaning “for oneself”—to defend themselves, but this is not advised. Knowledge of criminal law and procedure and rules of evidence are critical to your defense. If you are charged with a felony and you cannot afford to hire an attorney you can apply for the services of a public defender.
If you do not qualify for the services of a public defender then you can also choose to hire a private criminal defense attorney. Selecting a private criminal defense attorney who genuinely cares about your case is critical. A good criminal defense attorney will engage in the following steps:
Investigating the Case
The first step of any case is gathering the facts, and a criminal case is no different. If you retain our firm we will aim to gain knowledge about the details surrounding the case and ask you questions to evaluate the situation. It is always recommended that clients be honest with their criminal defense lawyers and answer all questions truthfully throughout the process.
Interviewing key defense witnesses is critical to the fact finding process. The State is putting together their “version” of the events to present to the jury, so a good criminal defense attorney will review the State’s initial investigative packet or “discovery” with you. This is an ongoing process, but initial defenses can be identified based upon review of the discovery packet from the State as well as interviewing key witnesses.
Preparing Your Defense
Every person charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. A good criminal defense attorney will be able to hold the State to its burden of proving each charge against you beyond a reasonable doubt; if they fail to do so then a jury would be authorized to issue a not guilty verdict. Specifically, each criminal charge has elements that the State must prove in order to convict you of a crime. A good criminal defense attorney will prepare your defense based on the facts and law surrounding your case, potentially securing a not guilty verdict. A winning strategy can turn on the slightest piece of evidence so working diligently to collect all pieces is key.
Handling and Reducing Sentencing
Finally, a criminal defense attorney works with the State to get their client’s sentence reduced if facts warrant this approach. By negotiating with the prosecutor, criminal defense lawyers can often implement a plea bargain or deal that will result in a lesser time served or alternatives to jail time in exchange for a guilty plea. Your criminal defense attorney will be able to walk you through the pros and cons of the deals offered by the prosecutor so you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed.