What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?

A criminal defense lawyer is hired for the defense of a person charged with a felony or misdemeanor. The criminal defense attorney speaks for the defendant in the courtroom and works to get the person acquitted from a criminal charge. He or she is knowledgeable about United States law and is skilled at building relationships.

Types of Criminal Defense Lawyers

A criminal defense lawyer has the education and experience necessary to successfully defend someone in a court of law. He or she has earned a bachelor’s degree, finished three years of law school, during which time he or she specialized in criminal defense, and successfully passed his or her state’s bar exam. The bar exam is a two or three-day test that grants the test taker admission to his or her state’s bar association and allows the test taker to prove intimate knowledge of the law. An experienced and educated criminal defense lawyer will have a strong knowledge of the criminal justice system and how to represent a client in a court of law. 

A defense attorney can be hired by the defendant or assigned to the case like a public defender, who is paid by the public defender’s office. Defendants who cannot afford representation are assigned a public defender. Every American has the right to an attorney, which is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. This is why public defenders are paid by the public defender’s office and not by the client. This crucial right ensures all Americans are receiving appropriate representation.

Defense lawyers can be anyone. There is no one type of person who makes the best defense attorney, but criminal defense lawyers definitely benefit from knowledge and experience and, of course, will need to be members of the criminal defense bar association. Defense lawyers should gain experience by volunteering for clinics and working with practice organizations. A defense attorney should have the confidence needed to defend a client before a judge and jury and confidence is best gained through education and experience. 

Case Investigation

Once a criminal defense lawyer has been assigned a case, he or she will begin to investigate the case. The lawyer will consider the type of crime – whether it’s embezzlement, DWI, DUI, or a sex crime – and will interview the defendant in order to understand every detail. The criminal lawyer will talk with law enforcement and any witnesses and might have any existing evidence tested.

This investigation process can take some time, but the defendant’s lawyer will know the best questions to ask the police and the witnesses and will be able to gain a clear idea of how the defendant will be received in court. During this process, the attorney will begin to strategize for how to handle the witnesses and evidence during the trial and will sometimes be able to find new witnesses.

In the case of Adnan Syed, who was arrested and convicted for the murder of his girlfriend Hae Min Lee, it was determined that his lawyer did not sufficiently do her duty to Syed. Cristina Gutierrez failed to interview several important witnesses and Syed’s case was eventually eligible for appeal on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

It’s the lawyer’s job to make sure every possible detail of the case has been explored before the case goes to trial. He or she should be looking for any way to acquit the defendant. The lawyer has the right to review the prosecution’s case, which can help prevent a criminal conviction, and the lawyer should have a strong understanding of criminal law and will understand how to operate in federal court. The investigation step is crucial in criminal justice.

Client Communication

Criminal cases are definitely stressful for the attorney, but they are especially stressful for the client. The defendant might believe they have done nothing wrong and is now watching their future slip away before their eyes. It’s the criminal lawyer’s job to be in frequent communication with his or her client. The American Bar Association states that lawyers should be “loyal and zealous advocates for their clients.” Each attorney should ensure his or her clients are receiving their rights to the full extent of the law and that their clients feel they are receiving the best possible defense. The lawyer is the client’s advocate and has a duty to protect the client’s legal and constitutional rights.

Lawyers are taught the importance of communicating successfully with every member of the justice system, and this includes their clients. Attorneys have to build relationships with those they are defending, and this is no easy task. The defense should stay in frequent communication with the defendant and make it clear that they are the client’s strongest advocate, while also making sure no professional boundaries are crossed. It’s a delicate balance that a lawyer must find in order to effectively do his or her duty.

Trial Participation

The lawyer has numerous duties before, during, and after a trial. During jury selection, the defense lawyer can ask to have certain jurors removed if he or she believes the person may be biased against the defendant. This can be crucial for securing an acquittal. Before the trial, the attorney will also consider whether a plea bargain would be better for the defendant. If so, the lawyer will work to secure the best possible settlement.

During the trial, it is the criminal lawyer’s duty to provide evidence for the case against the prosecution. The lawyer should work to provide new evidence or a new interpretation of the current evidence. The attorney will question witnesses and craft a strong case in favor or his or her client. The work the lawyer does before, during, and after a trial show exactly why an experienced and knowledgeable defender is important. Defendants should never represent themselves in complex cases, especially felony cases.

If the trial does not end in favor of the defendant, a criminal defense lawyer can file an appeal. This means he or she is objecting to either the conviction or sentencing. An appeal is not a retrial. The attorney is attempting to change something that has already occurred in court and the appeal must claim that some aspect of the trial was wrong.

In the case of Adnan Syed, he was allowed an appeal because it was determined that during his first trial, his lawyer failed to represent him to the best of her abilities. Sometimes a defendant will request a new lawyer for the appeals process, but if the appeal is not based on an action or inaction taken by the original lawyer, the defendant may wish to continue working with the current attorney. Since it’s so important that lawyers and clients build a relationship, the desire to continue working with the same attorney makes perfect sense.

A criminal defense lawyer must have an excellent understanding of the criminal justice system. He or she must be experienced and educated and have the ability to build strong relationships with clients. A criminal trial can be lengthy and exhausting and a defense attorney must be able to work tirelessly and passionately for his or her client. Ultimately, a criminal defense lawyer is an interviewer, an education, a confidant, and a zealous defender.