The U.S. Constitution makes it clear that any U.S. citizen accused of a crime must be provided with representation. This can be by hiring a private attorney or using a court-appointed one. In some cases, you can also represent yourself in court.

What exactly does a criminal defense attorney do? Is it important to hire one or can you rely on the court-appointed one? If you think you can represent yourself in court, is it a good idea? How can a criminal defense attorney help you and why do you need one?

What is a Criminal Defense Attorney?

In the simplest of terms, a criminal defense attorney is someone who will represent you after you have been accused of a crime. It is their job to advocate on your behalf. They do not act in their own best interest. Rather, their sole purpose is to act in your best interest and to try and have your charges dropped. If they are unable to do that, then they will work to have your charges lowered to lesser degrees. This can help lower jail time and any fines you have to pay.

How can a Criminal Defense Attorney help you?

You can represent yourself in court. An attorney will also be assigned to you through the court if you do not hire one or cannot afford one. While these are options, it is best to hire a competent attorney who specializes in the type of crime you are accused of. Court-appointed attorneys have many clients who are accused of varying criminal charges. They can be over-worked and under-educated about your crime.

The criminal defense process can be long and complicated. An attorney can explain and guide you through each of the steps. They can also represent you and will have a good understanding of the law and what is needed to prove your innocence.

Pre-trial

There is important work that an attorney can help with pre-trial. When you are first arrested, your lawyer can help you through the process. You might be detained before your trial and your attorney can try to negotiate bail. This means that you could be released before trial if you pay a certain amount of money. They can also be in the room when you are questioned by the police and they can inform you of your rights and help guide you with what you should and should not say.

Before your case goes to court, you will usually have a preliminary hearing. This is where boundaries for the trial will be set when both sides make pre-trial motions. These usually include the exclusion of evidence or witness testimony, motions to change jurisdictions, or a motion to release evidence that the prosecution is holding so the defense can view it.

Additionally, your lawyer can also make certain pre-trial motions to have your case dismissed altogether. This is usually done by filing a motion to dismiss the case. The grounds for this usually include one of the following: lack of evidence, settlement, or lack of jurisdiction.

During Trial

Trial preparation may include steps like analyzing your case for strengths and weaknesses, deposing witnesses, gathering all evidence, requesting medical records, and jury selection. They may also meet with prosecutors who offer a plea bargain. This generally means that you settle before going to court. You generally will have to spend some amount of time in jail and usually have to please guilty, although to lesser charges than your initial one.

There are several rules of the court that an attorney should be well versed in. This includes objecting to certain evidence, witnesses, or statements made or presented by the prosecution. There are also more nuanced rules like what to wear and how to address the judge. Your lawyer can prepare you for all of this so you have the best chance of winning your case.

Your attorney can help you decide whether you should take the stand during your trial. If you decide to do this, they will help you prepare. They are not allowed to coach you or tell you what to say. However, they can role play and get you prepared for stressful lines of questioning that the prosecution may ask you.

During the trial, your lawyer will act as your advocate. They will work hard to make sure you have the best outcome for your case. They will provide opening and closing statements, present evidence, and question witnesses. If the outcome is not favorable for you, they can also begin to work on your appeal.