​What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?

Published On: December 12, 2022By

Criminal convictions often lead to serious penalties, including lengthy jail times and high monetary fines. A conviction can also lead to numerous collateral consequences that may affect every aspect of your life, including your ability to get or keep a job, find a place to live, or spend time with family members and friends. Finally, some criminal convictions may cause irreparable harm to your reputation in the community.

One of the best ways to avoid these legal penalties and collateral consequences is to avoid a conviction in the first place. That is where a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer in your area can help immensely.

A criminal defense attorney can first meet with you to discuss the circumstances of your arrest and criminal charge. Your lawyer can then develop a plan of action for your case, including preparing a favorable defense that may lead to a complete dismissal of your charge. At other times, your lawyer can negotiate with state prosecutors on your behalf for a favorable plea deal.

Your lawyer will represent you at all legal proceedings in your case, including your criminal court trial and sentencing hearing, and help you pursue the best possible result in your case.

You should never try to navigate the criminal justice system without the right professional defense help. Your first step should be to learn how a local defense attorney can assist you.

Schedule A Free Consultation

Crimes That Result in Severe Penalties

Any criminal conviction can lead to serious penalties—not to mention a black mark on your permanent record. However, some crimes are more serious than others. Lesser criminal offenses, called misdemeanors, are typically punishable by one year or less in jail. Felonies, on the other hand, are more serious offenses. A felony conviction is punishable by more than one year of incarceration.

Misdemeanor and felony offenses vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction across the country. The state criminal statute for your jurisdiction will list potential felony and misdemeanor crimes, as well as the maximum penalties a judge can impose upon conviction.

If you are currently pending any criminal charges, you should have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney representing you every step of the way.

Common criminal charges include property offenses, such as burglary, or crimes of violence, including assault, battery, robbery, and domestic violence crimes.

Other potential criminal charges are homicides, including varying degrees of murder and manslaughter.

Some crimes, like rape, child abuse, child neglect, and possessing child pornography, are sex offenses. A conviction on one of these charges can result in severe penalties, including mandatory state or federal sex offender registration.

Finally, some criminal offenses involve illegal drug transactions, such as possessing an illegal drug, possessing a drug with the intent to distribute it, drug trafficking and distribution offenses, and possessing drug paraphernalia.

If you are currently facing criminal charges for any of these crimes, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can be an invaluable help. First, your lawyer can discuss the circumstances of your arrest and charge with you and determine if you may be eligible to assert a legal defense to the charge. If so, your attorney can start preparing a defense for your criminal court trial.

The Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case

What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do

In every criminal case, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. This is a very high burden to overcome, and the prosecutor must demonstrate each element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The criminal defendant, or the individual who is facing the criminal charge(s), does not need to prove anything in the case. In fact, the defendant does not even need to take the witness stand and testify in their own defense at a criminal court trial.

If the state prosecutor fails to satisfy even one legal element of the case—beyond a reasonable doubt—they should not obtain a conviction against the defendant. Moreover, if the defendant does not incur a criminal conviction, a judge cannot assess penalties in the case.

Although the criminal defendant does not need to prove anything, they can allege one or more legal defenses to the underlying crime. These defenses may help to negate the elements of proof in the prosecutor’s case, preventing them from satisfying their legal burden and obtaining a conviction against the defendant.

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can determine which defenses you may be eligible to assert at your criminal trial. Your lawyer can then represent you in court and advocate the strongest possible defense on your behalf.

Potential Penalties Upon Conviction

The potential penalties that a criminal defendant may receive upon conviction depend upon various factors, including the nature of the underlying criminal charge, the facts and circumstances of the case, and whether or not the defendant is a repeat offender.

Once a state prosecutor obtains a conviction against the defendant, a judge will decide the penalties to impose. In many instances, judges must follow state mandatory minimum and maximum penalties. The state legislature sets these penalties, and they may adjust the penalty range every so often.

Some of the most common penalties that criminal defendants receive upon conviction include high monetary fines, jail time, court-imposed community service, and supervised or unsupervised probation—all depending upon the specific circumstances.

Individuals who sustain convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI, may also need to complete a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

A judge may also require that DUI offenders participate in the ignition interlock device (IID) program. Under this program, a DUI offender must pay to install the IID on their vehicle. They must then blow into this portable Breathalyzer machine whenever they want to start their car. If the device detects alcohol on the driver’s breath, it will not allow the vehicle to start.

Avoiding a criminal conviction is the best way to eliminate the possibility of serious penalties. However, if a state prosecutor does obtain a conviction against you, your lawyer can attend your sentencing hearing and argue for a fair penalty on your behalf.

Potential Collateral Consequences of a Conviction

There is no disputing that criminal convictions may lead to serious legal penalties. However, a conviction can also affect many aspects of a person’s life and well-being.

First, many convicted offenders have difficulty finding and keeping their job. This is because employers routinely perform online criminal background checks on prospective applicants and employees. If they determine that an individual has one or more criminal convictions on their record, they may not hire the applicant for the job. Moreover, if an individual’s job involves driving a vehicle, their employer may terminate them upon conviction for DUI.

Other individuals with criminal convictions on their record may have a difficult time finding a place to live. This is especially true if they are a convicted sex offender and have to register on a state or national sex offender registry. Individuals with homicide, robbery, or domestic violence convictions on their records may also have trouble renting a house or apartment in a reputable area.

At other times, convicted offenders may find it difficult to get into the educational institution of their choice. Like employers, colleges and universities frequently perform online background checks on prospective students. If they determine that an applicant has a criminal conviction record, they are less likely to send them an acceptance letter. Moreover, if an already enrolled student receives scholarship funds or financial aid from the school, that assistance may go away if the student incurs a serious criminal conviction.

Finally, criminal convictions can seriously affect a person’s professional reputation in the community. When an individual sustains a conviction, members of the community may consider them irresponsible or untrustworthy, causing them to lose business and suffer other serious consequences.

An experienced criminal defense attorney in your area can represent you at your sentencing hearing and work to minimize the collateral consequences you experience due to your conviction.

Raising a Strong Legal Defense to Your Criminal Charge

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you raise one or more legal defenses to your charge. If your lawyer asserts the defense at trial and a jury believes it, the prosecutor might not satisfy their legal burden in the case. As a result, your entire criminal case may be subject to a complete dismissal.

All criminal cases are different, so the defenses you are eligible to raise will vary depending on your specific charge—and the circumstances surrounding your case.

Some of the best legal defenses that individuals may raise in response to a criminal charge include:

  • Alibi, meaning that they were somewhere else at the time the incident in question allegedly occurred
  • Self-defense, meaning that another individual was the initial aggressor and that the defendant only used a proportionate amount of force against that aggressor
  • Lack of control or possession, such as where the criminal defendant was unaware that a firearm or drugs were present in the vicinity and had no ownership or control over them
  • Mistaken identity, meaning that the alleged victim mistook the criminal defendant for the individual who actually committed the crime in question

A criminal defendant might also allege that a police officer violated their Fourth Amendment rights by engaging in an unreasonable and unlawful search or seizure—such as by initiating a random traffic stop. In most instances, for a police officer to conduct a valid search, they must have the necessary probable cause—along with a validly executed search warrant.

Alternatively, a warrant exception must exist, such as where a search happens incident to a lawful arrest or where there is a danger that the criminal defendant might flee the scene. However, if the officer lacked probable cause—or a warrant/warrant exception did not exist, the arrest may be unlawful. Consequently, any incriminating evidence that flows from the unlawful arrest may be subject to suppression at trial.

Similarly, a criminal defendant may allege that a police officer violated their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Police officers violate these rights when they continue to ask criminal defendants questions after they assert their right to the presence of legal counsel. If the defendant asserts their Fifth Amendment right but later incriminates themselves, any statements or physical evidence flowing from that statement may be subject to suppression.

An eligible criminal defense attorney can determine if you are eligible to raise any of these legal offenses to your pending criminal charge. If so, your lawyer can zealously fight for your legal rights in court and help you obtain a favorable result in your case.

Negotiating a Favorable Plea Deal With the State Prosecutor

In some instances, state prosecutors may place a plea deal on the table. They often initiate plea deal negotiations if they think they are unlikely to obtain a conviction against the criminal defendant at trial.

In a plea deal arrangement, the state prosecutor typically offers the criminal defendant some concession, such as a charge reduction or term of probation, in exchange for the defendant’s guilty plea. For example, in a DUI case, the state prosecutor may offer to reduce the criminal charge to reckless driving in exchange for a guilty plea.

When a defendant agrees to accept a plea deal, they give up some very important rights. First, they give up their constitutional right to a trial by jury. Next, they give up the right to appeal their case to a higher court.

A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can help you decide whether to accept a plea deal or take your case to trial.

Call a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer to Represent You Today

No matter what criminal charge or charges you face, you should always have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney advocating for you at every stage of the legal proceedings.

Your lawyer can help you make informed decisions in your case and work to minimize or eliminate the legal and collateral consequences of any conviction. Your lawyer will be by your side every step of the way and pursue the best possible result in your criminal matter.

Schedule A Free Consultation