If you are currently pending criminal charges, you must retain a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you throughout your entire case. However, before retaining legal counsel, there are certain questions you should always ask—including those about the lawyer’s experience level defending clients against your particular charge.
First and foremost, a knowledgeable attorney can safeguard your legal rights while your criminal case is pending. Moreover, your attorney can help you formulate a strong legal defense to your charge and advance that defense at your criminal court trial.
When you go to court, your criminal defense lawyer can also help you negotiate a fair plea deal with the state prosecutor handling your case. Finally, if you ultimately sustain a conviction on your charge, your attorney can represent you at a sentencing hearing and advocate for a fair penalty on your behalf.
How Criminal Charges Come About
In most instances, a police officer needs probable cause and a warrant to arrest someone for a criminal offense. However, in some instances, a warrant exception may exist—such as where there’s a danger to public safety or when some other exigent circumstance arises. Furthermore, if there’s a risk of potential evidence disappearing quickly, the officer may not need a warrant to arrest someone.
If a police officer makes a mistake while arresting an individual or violates their constitutional rights somehow, a criminal defense attorney can raise that mistake at trial to pursue a charge dismissal.
Felony and Misdemeanor Charges
Jurisdictions throughout the country classify criminal charges based on their seriousness. Generally speaking, a felony conviction is more serious than a misdemeanor conviction. Moreover, felonies are generally punishable by jail time lasting longer than one year, while the maximum penalty for many misdemeanors is one year or less of jail time.
However, a misdemeanor conviction may still lead to serious penalties, including hefty monetary fines. Therefore, no matter what type of criminal charge you are pending, it is essential that you have legal counsel representing you from the beginning stages of your case until the very end. Your attorney can answer your legal questions and explain your options moving forward. Your lawyer can also help you select the best option for your unique case and circumstances.
Criminal Defense Common Questions
Who Has the Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case?
In every criminal case, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. Specifically, the prosecutor has to establish every legal element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt—or “beyond a doubt that’s based upon ordinary reason and common sense.” If the prosecutor cannot satisfy their legal burden, the criminal charge, and sometimes the entire criminal case, may be subject to a complete dismissal.
On the other hand, the individual the police officer arrests—or the criminal defendant—does not need to prove anything in the case. However, the defendant’s attorney can raise one or more legal defenses to the charge at trial. A successful defense might prevent the state prosecutor from establishing one or more legal elements, resulting in a case dismissal.
Your criminal defense attorney can determine if you are eligible to raise a legal defense at trial and, if so, can zealously advocate on your behalf and pursue a full case dismissal.
What Is a Plea Deal in a Criminal Case?
In some criminal cases, the state prosecutor might place a plea deal on the table for the criminal defendant to consider. Prosecutors often offer plea deals when they are not confident in their ability to secure a conviction at trial. They may not have solid evidence, so they may be unwilling to take their chances in court.
As part of a plea deal, the defendant must ordinarily plead guilty to some offense. However, in exchange for this guilty plea, the prosecutor may be willing to reduce the charge or offer a term of probation. For example, if a police officer arrests the defendant for suspected DUI, the prosecutor might offer to reduce the charge from DUI to reckless driving.
This is especially true if it was a first-time DUI arrest. Alternatively, in exchange for a guilty plea, the prosecutor may offer a period of probation, which the defendant may choose to accept. The conviction goes away if the defendant successfully completes all of their probationary terms and does not commit any violations.
In some instances, it may be beneficial for the defendant to consider accepting the prosecutor’s plea deal proposal. However, at other times, it may be to the defendant’s advantage to take their case to trial. This is especially true if the defendant has a solid legal defense to the pending criminal charge. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you decide whether you should accept or reject a plea deal from the state prosecutor in your case.
What Are the Potential Consequences of a Criminal Conviction?
Criminal convictions often come with numerous legal, administrative, and collateral consequences. The legal penalties that a defendant may receive upon conviction will depend upon the nature and extent of their charge, the facts and circumstances of the offense, and whether or not they are a previous offender. Moreover, judges will consider sentencing guidelines when imposing penalties in a criminal case. In fact, some crimes are subject to statutory minimum and maximum penalties.
Some of the most common penalties that convicted offenders may face include jail time, high monetary fines, community service, payment of restitution to the crime victim, probation, and court-ordered drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
In addition to these legal penalties, a defendant may face administrative penalties from the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is especially true if they are pending a DUI charge, and the DMV administratively suspends their driver’s license for a period of time. However, if the DMV takes discretionary action, the driver has the option to request a hearing before a DMV officer.
The hearing officer will show the driver the evidence and allow them an opportunity to testify and call witnesses. The officer will then decide whether to suspend the driver’s license, reinstate the license, or grant the driver discretionary privileges, such as the ability to drive to and from work only.
Finally, criminal convictions often come with serious collateral consequences. An individual with a criminal conviction on their record may find it difficult to attend school, find a place to live, or find a job. This is because educational institutions, landlords, and prospective employers frequently perform online criminal background checks on applicants. If they uncover a criminal conviction on the applicant’s record, they may deny the application.
If you ultimately sustain a criminal conviction in your case, your lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing before a judge. At the hearing, your attorney can argue on your behalf and work to obtain the lowest possible penalty available. Your lawyer will also work to minimize any collateral consequences from your conviction. Learn how to find a good DUI lawyer with the help of our experienced legal team.
Potential Defenses to Various Crimes
When your criminal case goes to court, your lawyer can advance one or more legal defenses to your charge. The available defenses typically depend upon the charge or charges you’re facing, as well as the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Some of the most common defenses that criminal defendants may raise at trial include:
- Lack of ownership. In cases involving firearm or drug possession, the defendant may allege that they lacked control over the firearm or drugs at issue. Moreover, they can argue that they had no knowledge of the firearm or drug’s existence in the location where the police found it.
- Self-defense. Criminal defendants can allege self-defense in their case if someone else was the initial aggressor during an assault or domestic violence incident. For self-defense to work, the defendant must not have used more force than what the initial aggressor used against them.
- Alibi. Alibi is a workable defense when the defendant can show that they were someplace else at the time when the incident in question allegedly occurred. At a criminal court trial, the defendant’s lawyer can call corroborating witnesses to testify about the defendant’s location when the incident occurred.
- Improper search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Therefore, a defendant can allege that a police officer initiated an improper traffic stop or that they did not have the necessary reasonable suspicion to pull their vehicle over. Moreover, the defendant may argue that the arresting police officer lacked the necessary probable cause, search warrant, or warrant exception to initiate a search of their premises or vehicle.
- Improper police questioning. Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals have a right against self-incrimination. Therefore, if a police officer or investigator begins to question them, and they assert their right to the presence of legal counsel, the police officer or investigator must immediately stop their questioning. If they continue to question the defendant and elicit an incriminating response, that response may be subject to suppression at trial.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can help you determine which defenses you may assert at your criminal jury or bench trial.
What Should I Ask a Prospective Criminal Defense Attorney?
It is usually best to speak with several prospective defense attorneys if you are currently facing criminal charges.
To ensure the right fit, ask prospective lawyers these important questions you should:
- How many years of experience do you have? In many criminal cases, a lot is riding on the line—including your personal freedom. Therefore, when choosing a lawyer to represent you throughout your case, you want an attorney who has been practicing criminal defense law for many years.
- Have you ever handled a similar criminal case before, and what was the result? All criminal cases are different. Ideally, you want a criminal defense attorney representing you who has defended individuals facing the same criminal charges as you’re currently facing.
- How often do you take criminal matters to trial? When selecting a criminal defense attorney to represent you, you want a lawyer who routinely takes their cases to trial—not one who resolves all of their cases with state prosecutors via plea deals. A criminal defense lawyer with trial experience will know the right legal defenses to raise at trial—and the correct objections to make during questioning. You also want to ask a prospective lawyer about their success rate when taking criminal cases like yours to a jury or bench trial.
- What is your attorney’s fee? When selecting a criminal defense lawyer to represent you, it is a good idea to shop around, ensuring that the fee you pay your attorney is reasonable under the circumstances. More experienced lawyers tend to charge higher fees. However, lawyers may also consider the novelty and complexity of your criminal case when determining their fee amount.
- Do you have any ethical violations on your record? Also, ask a prospective lawyer whether they have any ethical violations on their record. In many jurisdictions, this information is available to the public online. Just because someone previously filed a bar complaint against the lawyer does not necessarily make them a bad lawyer. However, a pattern of prior ethical violations and disciplinary action by the state bar may be a red flag.
Call a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney to Represent You Today
If you are currently pending criminal charges, time is of the essence in your case. Generally speaking, the sooner you involve a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to represent you, the better off you will be and the more likely your chances of success in court.
It is also important that you retain a lawyer as early on in the process as possible. If you show up to court without a lawyer present, the judge may assume that you are waiving your right to legal representation. Consequently, the judge might make you go forward at trial without a lawyer present.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can assist you during every stage of your case, from initial police questioning up to your sentencing hearing. Your lawyer can represent you at all court proceedings, call witnesses on your behalf, present evidence, and help you obtain the best possible result in your case.