​What to Look for in a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Published On: November 5, 2022By

If you currently have pending criminal charges, you must have a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer representing you throughout your case. Ideally, that attorney should have experience successfully handling criminal cases similar to yours—and should charge you a reasonable fee.

A criminal conviction can lead to numerous penalties and collateral consequences that may affect you for the rest of your life. However, having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney by your side throughout your case ensures that your legal rights remain protected at all times.

First, your lawyer can meet with you to discuss the circumstances of your arrest and criminal charge. Your lawyer can also be present with you during any police questioning, ensuring that officers do not violate your constitutional rights. Moreover, your lawyer can determine if you are eligible to raise one or more legal defenses to your charge in court. Your lawyer can also negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor on your behalf.

Finally, your attorney can represent you at all courtroom proceedings and zealously advocate on your behalf. During the trial, your attorney can raise a strong legal defense, which, if successful, may result in a complete dismissal of your criminal case. If you ultimately sustain a conviction on your charge, your criminal defense lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing, ensuring that the penalty you receive is fair.

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Pending Criminal Charges—Felonies and Misdemeanors

Generally speaking, criminal charges fall into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. A felony is a crime punishable by more than one year of incarceration, up to a lifetime maximum. On the other hand, a misdemeanor is typically punishable by one year or less of incarceration.

Of the two categories, felonies are the more serious criminal offenses and can subject offenders to the highest amounts of prison time, monetary fines, and other consequences. Even though misdemeanors are less serious, offenders may still incur serious penalties upon conviction. Therefore, even if you are only pending a misdemeanor criminal charge, it is still vital that you have knowledgeable legal representation on board in your case.

Legal Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case

In every criminal case, the state prosecutor handling your claim has the legal burden of proof. Therefore, to obtain a conviction against you, the prosecutor must establish every legal element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not mean that the prosecutor needs to prove every case element “100 percent.” However, they do have to prove each element “beyond a doubt that is based upon ordinary reason and common sense.”

On the other hand, the defendant—or the individual facing the criminal charges—does not need to prove anything in a criminal case. However, at trial, the defendant’s lawyer can raise one or more legal defenses on the defendant’s behalf. These defenses sometimes work to negate various elements of the criminal charge. When that happens, the prosecutor may not establish their legal burden, and the charge—or the entire case—may be subject to a complete dismissal.

Your attorney can review the circumstances of your charge with you and determine if you are eligible to raise one or more legal defenses in court. If so, your attorney can raise those defenses on your behalf when your case goes to trial.

Potential Penalties for a Conviction

The penalties that an offender may incur following a criminal conviction often vary from case to case, depending upon the type of charge, the nature of the offense, the number of prior convictions, and certain statutory minimums and maximums. If you ultimately sustain a conviction at a bench or jury trial, a sentencing judge must impose penalties in your case.

Some of the most common penalties that offenders receive include:

  • Jail time
  • Monetary fines
  • Required payment of restitution to the victim
  • Community service
  • Court-ordered mental health counseling or alcohol rehabilitation
  • Supervised or unsupervised probation

DUI LawyerProbation is an option that many prosecutors place on the table, especially when the offender has never sustained a conviction previously. In cases of supervised probation, the court will assign a probation officer to oversee the case and ensure the offender’s compliance with the probationary terms. If the offender satisfies all of the terms of their probation, the criminal conviction will go away. Therefore, they can honestly state on an application that they never sustained a prior criminal conviction.

In addition to these legal penalties, some offenders may incur administrative fines and penalties. The Department of Motor Vehicles typically imposes these penalties at its discretion. For example, in a DUI case, the offender may lose their driving privileges for some time. When the DMV takes discretionary action, the DUI offender has a right to request a hearing with a DMV hearing officer. At that hearing, the officer may affirm their decision, deny the offender’s request for license reinstatement, or allow the offender limited driving privileges—such as driving to and from work. Learn more about harsh DUI punishments in our criminal defense blog.

Finally, any criminal conviction can lead to numerous collateral consequences that may affect the offender’s life. For example, a criminal conviction might make it difficult for an offender to later find and keep a job, find a place to live, or attend the college or university of their choice. This is because prospective employers, landlords, and educational institutions frequently perform detailed criminal background checks on applicants. If they encounter a criminal conviction on an applicant’s record, they are less likely to approve the offender’s application.

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can represent you at your sentencing hearing before a judge if you ultimately sustain a criminal conviction. There, your lawyer can advocate for your legal interests and work to minimize the potential penalties and collateral consequences to you. Your attorney can also represent you at a DMV hearing and introduce testimony and evidence on your behalf.

Defenses to a Pending Criminal Charge

Depending upon the pending charge, a criminal defendant can raise one or more legal defenses at trial. If the defense is successful, the entire case may be subject to a complete dismissal.

Common defenses in criminal cases include:

  • Mistaken identity or alibi. A defendant may allege mistaken identity or alibi as a defense when they were somewhere else at the time of the offense or where their physical appearance is similar to the person who actually committed the offense.
  • Improper traffic stop. Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals have a right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. In the context of a traffic stop, the accused may allege that a police officer lacked the necessary reasonable suspicion to pull their vehicle over—or that the officer engaged in a “random” traffic stop.
  • Fifth Amendment violations. Individuals have a Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination. Therefore, if a police officer or investigator begins questioning the accused individual about an offense—and the accused verbally asserts their right to the presence of counsel during questioning—the police officer must stop their questioning immediately until legal counsel becomes available. If the officer continues questioning the accused and the accused says something incriminating, then the incriminating statement may be subject to suppression. Consequently, it may not be admissible at trial against the accused.
  • Self-defense. In criminal cases involving assault or domestic violence, the accused may allege self-defense. To successfully argue self-defense, the accused must not ordinarily have been the initial aggressor. Moreover, the accused must have only used an amount of force that’s proportionate to the force the other individual used against them. If the accused used “excessive force,” then self-defense will not likely serve as a viable legal defense.
  • Lack of ownership or control. In criminal cases involving drugs or firearms, the accused may allege that they did not own the drug/firearm in question, that they did not have immediate control over it, or that they were unaware of its presence in the home or vehicle which the police officer searched. An accused may use this defense to defeat a charge of drug or firearm possession.

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can determine if you are eligible to raise one or more of these legal defenses at your criminal trial and, if so, can aggressively argue the appropriate defense on your behalf in court. Your lawyer will also push for a “not guilty” finding and a complete dismissal of your pending criminal charge.

Negotiating a Favorable Plea Deal in a Criminal Case

Criminal defense lawyer in Anaheim CADepending upon the nature and circumstances of a criminal charge, a prosecutor might be willing to place a favorable plea deal on the table. Prosecutors sometimes offer plea deals when they are not confident in their ability to secure a conviction against the defendant at trial.

As part of a plea deal, the offender must usually plead guilty to some offense. However, in exchange for a guilty plea, the prosecutor may be willing to reduce the pending charge or offer the defendant some type of probation. For example, in a drunk driving case, the prosecutor may be willing to reduce the charge from DUI to reckless driving in exchange for a guilty plea. At other times, the prosecutor may offer the defendant a term of probation in exchange for pleading guilty.

By agreeing to a plea deal, the offender gives up certain constitutional rights, including their right to a trial by jury and the right of appeal in their case. They must also enter into the plea deal freely and voluntarily.

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can help you decide whether it makes sense to accept a plea deal under your circumstances. In some instances, plea deals are favorable to the defendant, while at other times, the defendant may be better off taking their case to trial and letting a judge or jury decide the outcome.

Traits of a Good Criminal Defense Attorney

What makes a good criminal defense attorney? First, not all attorneys are the same. When it comes time to retain a criminal defense lawyer to represent you in your criminal case, you want an ethical, experienced lawyer on your side who has significant experience defending clients against your particular criminal charge.

Experience Handling Cases Involving Your Particular Charge

Some criminal charges are far more serious and involved than others. Therefore, when seeking out an experienced criminal defense attorney, you want a lawyer who has successfully handled criminal cases similar to yours—and which involved the same criminal charges. When you visit an attorney’s website, it will list the practice areas that the lawyer routinely handles.

Experience Taking Criminal Cases to Trial Successfully

Also, when retaining a criminal defense attorney in your case, you want a lawyer who routinely takes criminal matters to trial—not just one who resolves cases through plea deals. The attorney you retain should have experience in the courtroom questioning witnesses, introducing evidence, and obtaining favorable results.

Reasonable Attorney’s Fee

Various factors determine a lawyer’s fee, including the nature and circumstances of your criminal charge, the complexity of your case, and the amount of experience the attorney has. When shopping for a lawyer, you should always compare fees. However, the fee a lawyer charges does not always reflect their experience level or quality of service.

Clean Ethical Record

Before retaining a criminal defense attorney to represent you, you should always check out the attorney’s conduct record. In many jurisdictions, this information is public and is available online. Specifically, you should make sure that the attorney does not have a history of ethical violations or pending grievances. Just because a lawyer has received a bar complaint does not necessarily mean that they are a bad lawyer. However, if the attorney has a history of ethical violations and sanctions, that is likely a red flag.

Call a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Lawyer in Your Area to Represent You Today

If you are currently facing a criminal charge in the court system, you need a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney advocating for you. Your lawyer can represent you from the beginning stages of your case until the very end. Your attorney can also help you make informed decisions in your case and pursue the best possible result that’s available to you. If you have questions with your case or want to know some common questions you should have for your criminal defense attorney speak with our firm by clicking the button below and scheduling a FREE Consultation.

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