You’re facing criminal charges—now what? At the top of your list of priorities should be looking for the right criminal defense attorney. While this may sound easy enough, with so many options, trying to find the right lawyer for you can feel overwhelming.
In your search for the best criminal defense attorney, it is helpful to understand the details and characteristics you should strongly consider and determine what is important for you personally. Approaching your initial meeting with any prospective lawyer confidently prepared can give you a clear vision and help you search for the best criminal defense attorney.
What is a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Simply put, a criminal defense attorney has the skill to create a viable legal defense against whatever criminal charges you face. The goal is usually to get your charges dropped or dismissed or to get you the most beneficial outcome in terms of potential sentences and punishments.
A Lawyer for criminal defense can handle your criminal case from start to finish, including:
- Investigating your charges
- Helping you understand the charges brought against you
- Representing you in court
- Reviewing the evidence against you
- Advising you of your rights
- Creating a legal strategy
- Attempting to reach a favorable outcome on your behalf
Call a criminal defense attorney if you face criminal charges.
Why is a Criminal Defense Attorney so Important?
Whether in civil or criminal cases, never proceed without a lawyer. If you want to give yourself the best chance of winning your case, secure a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after the police charge you with a crime.
To best understand why you need a criminal defense attorney, it may help to recognize the difference between civil and criminal defendants.
A civil defendant defends against the plaintiff’s claims that you wronged them. Civil cases can involve accidents and contracts. When you lose a civil case, you typically need to pay money or perform under the terms of a contract.
On the other hand, a criminal defendant has much more to lose. You’re charged with committing a crime and face fines, parole, or jail time. Because your freedom and integrity are on the line, you need a lawyer to protect your rights and fight to reach a good outcome.
Private Criminal Defense Attorney vs. Public Defender
When police officers arrest you, you can ask for an attorney. While a lawyer is important at any point after an arrest, getting an attorney is especially critical after the prosecutor issues charges of a crime.
If you know your Miranda Rights, what the police recite as they arrest you, you know they include some variation of “You have the right to an attorney. If you do not have one, one will be appointed to you.” If you do not hire your own private criminal defense attorney, you have the right to ask the court to appoint a public defender.
Unfortunately, public defenders have a reputation as overworked and underpaid lawyers.
You can expect more from a private criminal defense lawyer instead of a public defender. Therefore, if you can hire a criminal defense lawyer, you may see more benefits.
The Best Criminal Defense Attorney—What to Look For
You want the best if you’re looking for a criminal defense lawyer. But what to look for in a criminal defense lawyer? While this definition differs for everyone, the following are some details and characteristics you should look for in your prospective attorney.
Education and Experience
At the outset of your search, you should consider a prospective lawyer’s education and, most importantly, their experience.
Some people strongly believe that a lawyer is a lawyer, and as long as they go to law school, they know how to provide competent representation. While going to law school is a critical and necessary step to becoming a licensed attorney, that is only one piece of the puzzle. What someone does after law school molds who they become as a lawyer.
Just like you would not go to a dermatologist for a stomach ache, you can’t just rely on any attorney to provide the best legal representation for your criminal case. You want to ensure your potential lawyer has the right experience handling criminal cases. Beyond this, you should always find an attorney with experience handling cases like yours involving similar charges, which indicates they have the right tools to represent you well.
Honesty is key in any other type of relationship, and the relationship with your attorney is no different. Especially with criminal cases, you need to find a lawyer who will be honest, upfront, and not sugarcoat anything.
You should trust your prospective criminal defense attorney and know they are telling you the whole truth regarding your criminal charges and what you can expect moving forward. Honesty can save you and your attorney plenty of headaches, challenges, and disappointments down the road.
Along with honesty, strong communication is another cornerstone of most relationships. You want to feel comfortable communicating with your attorney and feel as though you can reach out to them whenever you need to.
Nothing is worse than dealing with attorneys who do not know how to communicate effectively. Not only is this detrimental to your attorney-client relationship, but it may not be the best indication of the attorney’s ability to represent you.
Being a strong attorney usually requires communicating exceptionally well, especially because you are relying on your lawyer to represent you and your best interests at all times.
Along the same lines of communication, accessibility is also crucial. You should feel as though your criminal defense attorney is readily available to you. You should never feel like you’re not important or your attorney has other clients and cases they put before you.
A great criminal defense lawyer will set forth expectations regarding accessibility at the outset of your representation. Understanding when and how to reach your attorney can give you an immense boost of calmness and clarity.
Well Known and Respected Within the Legal Community
It’s beneficial to have a criminal defense attorney that’s well-known and well-respected within their community. When a lawyer is respected and recommended, you can feel more at peace knowing you’re in the right hands.
The legal community is exclusive, and almost everyone knows everyone. Therefore, when your lawyer is well-known, there’s a strong chance they know the prosecutor and judge on your case. This can bode well for you because when criminal defense attorneys are friendly with prosecutors, there may be a better and more open line of communication to negotiate and bargain.
Transparency Regarding Fees
You must address legal fees when hiring a criminal defense lawyer.
Hiring a criminal defense lawyer usually involves paying a retainer fee at the beginning and paying on an hourly basis.
Whatever your prospective attorney’s fee structure, they should make it clear at the beginning of your case and set it in stone in your contract. The last thing you want is to worry about your criminal defense lawyer being dishonest about fees or expecting payments you did not previously discuss.
It’s your money, and you should spend it as you see fit. Do not shy away from asking questions and seeking as much clarity in regard to fees as possible.
Determining Whether a Criminal Defense Lawyer is Right for You
Even if you know what you should look for in a criminal defense attorney, it can still feel stressful, which is entirely understandable. You’re essentially trusting this person wholeheartedly and putting your future in their hands, which is nothing you should ever take lightly.
Along with using the above criteria to judge your potential defense attorney, it’s also particularly helpful to ask questions during your initial visit. You should always strive to make the most out of your consultation in an effort to walk out of your meeting feeling empowered with vital information.
Writing out a list of questions you may want to ask your prospective attorney can keep you organized and ensure you don’t forget to ask anything important.
When it comes to experience, you can ask:
- How long have you been a criminal defense attorney?
- Did you always know you wanted to be a defense lawyer?
- What types of criminal cases do you handle most often?
- How long have you practiced in this location (city/state)?
- Do you know many of the criminal lawyers, prosecutors, and judges in this jurisdiction?
In regard to your specific case, you might consider asking questions like:
- What are your initial thoughts about my case?
- Have you handled cases like this one before? If so, what was the outcome?
- Considering my circumstances, what kind of outcome do you think I can expect?
- How will you approach handling my case?
- How long do you think it will take to handle my case?
- What are the chances my case will go to trial?
As far as expectations, you can ask:
- What are your legal fees?
- If I need to reach you, when can I expect a response?
- When I call your office, will I talk to you or another person?
- Will you be handling my case personally, or another one of your associates?
Keep in mind you should want to get to know your potential criminal defense attorney as much as they want to get to know you. Therefore, don’t feel shy about asking questions and wanting to get deeper. In most cases, lawyers enjoy it when their clients want more than just a surface-level working relationship.
How Your Lawyer Can Help
Once you hire a criminal defense lawyer you trust, they can help in many ways.
Some things your defense attorney should handle include:
- Representing you in all communications with the police or prosecutors
- Reviewing the circumstances of your arrest to identify any violations of your constitutional rights
- Evaluating the evidence against you
- Filing motions with the court to suppress certain evidence
- Negotiating with prosecutors for a favorable plea agreement
- Advising you of your options to plead guilty or go to trial
- Representing you in court when necessary to fight your charges
Begin Looking for the Best Criminal Defense Attorney for You Right Away
As soon as you’re arrested and facing criminal charges, start your search for the best criminal defense law firm. Keeping all of the above in mind, you’ll be sure to find the right lawyer for you.
Since you’ll be working closely with your attorney, you should always take the time to find a lawyer you like and enjoy communicating with. The sooner you find a lawyer, the quicker they can begin crafting your criminal defense and working toward the most favorable outcome for you.