What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do? – A criminal defense lawyer fulfills many important roles during the course of a criminal case. He is responsible for defending a person who is charged with a crime. He speaks on the client’s behalf.
I. Stages of a Criminal Case:
A. Assignment of the Case A criminal defense lawyer may be contacted directly by the defendant or may be assigned the case by the court. Many criminal defense lawyers are public defenders who are paid by the public defender’s office. They are appointed cases by local, state or federal courts. Other criminal defense lawyers are hired by private firms. Some criminal defense lawyers have an independent legal office that they man themselves. Public defenders tend to have a higher case load due to the referral process. In some cases, a court may appoint a private lawyer to take a specific case.
B. Interview about the Case – Once the criminal defense lawyer has the opportunity to meet personally with the client, he should try to get as many details about the case as possible. By asking specific questions about the case, he or she can learn about possible defenses and strengths and weaknesses about the case. This requires a careful and thorough questioning of the defendant.
C. Investigation into the Case – In addition to asking the criminal defendant pointed questions about the case, he must further investigate the case to determine any potential legal issues that can help the defendant’s case. This may include carefully reviewing the police procedures used in conjunction with the case. It may also include talking to witnesses who have information about the case and collecting information about the case. Sometimes, it involves a site-visit, to see the “crime scene” area first hand. All of this information is used to try to build a strong defense for the case and/or mitigation to be used in plea negotiations. If an expert witness is used in the case, the criminal defense lawyer may interview him or her about the testimony he or she may provide and the evidence that may be presented in case.
A criminal defense lawyer has the right to review the prosecution’s case. This allows him to find legal arguments that may help defend the case against the defendant. And, it allows him to try to find evidence that may refute the prosecutor’s case, such as hiring an independent lab or expert to test evidence in the case.
D. Analysis of Evidence – Analyzing the evidence against a criminal defendant requires the criminal defense lawyer to carefully study the facts and theories of the case. He may have evidence independently tested. For example, he might send a blood test in a DUI case, to be re-tested and analyzed by an independent lab. Additionally, he may examine the evidence to determine if there are any legal theories that work against the conviction of his or her client.
He will watch video evidence like body cameras, and review photographic evidence. He will analyze diagrams and maps, all with an eye to helping his client.
E. Continued Contact with the Client – A criminal defense lawyer must stay in contact with his or her client to explain any developments in the case and to keep him or her informed about the case. The lawyer must ensure that conversations with the client are kept confidential. This is referred to as “attorney-client privilege.” The lawyer must also ensure that he or she communicates information about the case to the client so that he has a better understanding of the possible consequences.
F. Jury Selection – If the case goes all the way to a trial, the criminal defense lawyer will assist with the jury selection process. He may try to have jurors removed for cause if they may be biased against the defendant or even if he or she simply has a bad feeling about a potential juror.
G. Plea Bargaining – Plea bargaining is a crucial stage of any criminal case. A criminal defense lawyer is also responsible for talking about the status of the case and negotiating with the prosecutor regarding any particular plea bargain. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to help secure a favorable deal for the defendant that results in a reduction of charges or the possible punishment. Plea bargaining is prevalent for practical reasons.
- Defendants can avoid the time and cost of defending themselves at trial, the risk of harsher punishment, and the publicity a trial could involve.
- The prosecution saves the time and expense of a lengthy trial.
- Both sides are spared the uncertainty of going to trial.
- The court system is saved the burden of conducting a trial on every crime charged.
Either side may begin negotiations over a proposed plea bargain, though obviously both sides have to agree before one comes to pass. Plea bargaining usually involves the defendant’s pleading guilty to a lesser charge, or to only one of several charges. It also may involve a guilty plea as charged, with the prosecution recommending leniency in sentencing. The judge, however, is not bound to follow the prosecution’s recommendation. Many plea bargains are subject to the approval of the court, but some may not be (e.g., prosecutors may be able to drop charges without court approval in exchange for a “guilty” plea to a lesser offense).
H. Trial Participation – A criminal defense lawyer fights for his or her client during the trial. He or she examines witnesses, cross-examines the state’s witnesses and tries to convince the jury that the prosecution has failed to meet its burden of proof.
II – Sentencing
If the criminal defendant is sentenced for the crime either because he accepted a plea bargain or was convicted by the judge or jury, a criminal defense lawyer can represent the defendant during the sentencing phase. He may discuss factors that can help convince the judge to limit the amount of time that the defendant serves and to discuss possible alternatives to incarceration. Often times, this is where “mitigation” is presented to the judge, in an effort to reduce the ultimate sentence handed down.
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Howard helps clients involved with employment law in the Colorado “High Country.” Howard, LLC represents clients in Eagle County, Summit County, Clear Creek County, Lake County, Garfield County and Pitkin County including the towns of Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Edwards, Avon, Eagle, Georgetown, Leadville, Frisco, Silverthorne and Glenwood Springs.
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