If you’re staring down a felony charge that you don’t know how to handle, you’re not the only one.
In fact, the number of felony cases in Texas has increased every year since 2014.
But if you’re like most people, you have no idea where to even begin. This is where a criminal defense attorney can make all the difference.
Keep reading to find out what a criminal defense lawyer is, what they do, when you need one, and how to find the right attorney for your case.
What is a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
A criminal defense lawyer is an attorney that is involved in the legal processes of defending and prosecuting criminal acts as a component of criminal law.
It’s one of the more thankless jobs in the legal arena, but for you, it’s the difference between going to jail and going home to your family.
What They Do
Many criminal defense attorneys are public defenders paid by the local public defender’s office and are appointed by local, state, and federal courts to defendants who cannot afford an attorney on their own.
However, there are also private criminal defense attorneys. These attorneys tend to work either on their own or in small partnerships focused on a specific geographic setting.
In either case, the role of a criminal attorney is to guide their client (you) through all stages of the legal process, from interviewing you about your case to investigating the case to assembling your defense to selecting a jury to argue your case in court (or arranging a plea bargain).
They usually have extensive experience working with a specific crime. They’re up-to-date on current laws related to this type of crime and know how those laws will impact your case.
Their job is to help you assess your options and make a realistic decision about how to proceed with your case, whether that means going to trial or accepting a plea bargain.
Cases When You Need a Criminal Lawyer
Some people think that they’re better off representing themselves in court. After all, you know yourself, you know what happened, and you know you did nothing wrong–that should be enough, right?
Not so fast.
The truth is, unless you’re an experienced criminal defense attorney yourself, it’s rarely a good idea to represent yourself in criminal court. Here are a few instances when you definitely need a criminal lawyer to help you.
You’re Charged with a Felony or Misdemeanor
As a rule, if you’ve been charged with a felony or misdemeanor, it’s a good idea to at least consult a criminal attorney to get a sense of your case. An attorney knows the law and knows how to realistically assess your case, so they can quickly get a sense of your odds.
You should consult a lawyer if you’re charged with any of the following misdemeanors:
- Petty theft
- Possession of marijuana
- First-time drug possession
- Disorderly conduct
- Public intoxication
And you should consult a lawyer if you’re charged with any of the following felonies:
- Aggravated assault or battery
- Robbery or burglary
- Various forms of fraud
- Grand larceny
- Possession or intent to distribute certain types of illegal drugs
Keep in mind that these lists are not all-inclusive, so it may still be worth consulting a criminal lawyer even if your offense isn’t one of the common ones on this list.
Hint: if you don’t know the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor, you definitely need a criminal defense lawyer.
You Need Help Figuring Out Your Options
If you need help figuring out your options, then a criminal defense attorney should be your first port of call.
Part of an attorney’s training involves looking at your case and telling you what your options are. This means more than just looking at the hard and fast facts of your case–it also involves looking at you as a defendant, your criminal history, and your chances of success before a jury of your peers.
Sometimes, your lawyer can prove that you were wrongly charged and clear your name. Sometimes, even if you can’t get out of a sentence, there are steps you can take to dramatically reduce your sentence.
An experienced criminal lawyer will know what you can do to make the whole process as painless as possible. Unless you know criminal law in great detail, you’re better off deferring to an attorney.
You Need a Reality Check
Part and parcel of showing you your options is giving you a reality check. Many defendants need this, even if they’re loath to admit it.
Many people, when charged with a crime, like to envision their cases like an episode of Law and Order–when the good guy makes an unexpected recovery in court to win over the jury and get their name cleared against all odds.
Real life rarely works that way.
Your attorney knows the law, and they know how to look at a case and play out what will happen if your case went to trial. They can offer a realistic, objective opinion that you cannot provide yourself.
So, if you’re facing a choice between a plea bargain and going to trial, get in touch with a criminal attorney to talk realistically about your options.
You Need Someone Who Knows the Legal Rules
In addition to someone who knows the law, you also need someone who knows the legal rules.
People representing themselves can read up on criminal law, but the truth is, many of the rules of criminal law are buried in court interpretations of federal and state constitutions, something the average person wouldn’t know to look for.
There are also many unwritten rules of criminal cases that the average person doesn’t know. For example, a criminal attorney in a specific area will be familiar with the prosecutors in that area, who has the real authority to settle a case, and what arguments are most likely to appeal to them.
You could try to figure it out on your own, but the truth is, you would likely lose your case in the time it took to figure out the rules. Don’t lose your case based on something that could have been fixed.
You Need Someone to Guide You Through the Embarrassment
Finally, one of the less-appreciated roles of a criminal attorney is someone who can guide you through the emotional process of a criminal case.
Most people cannot fathom how their lives will be upended by a criminal charge. Nor can they fathom the emotional toll that criminal proceedings take.
You’ll have to deal with the shame and humiliation that comes with others knowing you’ve been charged with a crime. You’ll also have to deal with the constant fear and anxiety that comes with the uncertainty of how your case will turn out.
A lot of this comes from the fact that you’ve never done this before. But your attorney does this every day. They know how to remain levelheaded and objective, even when the going gets rough.
And that means that they’ll be better equipped to defend you, even if the case isn’t going your way.
What to Look For in a Crime Lawyer
With all of that in mind, does it sound like you need a criminal lawyer?
If so, take a deep breath. Your attorney is out there, and they can help you take control of your situation–you just have to find the right attorney for the job.
But finding the right attorney isn’t just about finding the most expensive attorney, or the most charming attorney. Here are a few key factors that make an attorney the right (or wrong) person to handle your case.
Background and Experience
Before anything else, you need an attorney with the background an experience to match your case.
Put it this way: you could have the best corporate attorney in the city on retainer, but if you’ve been charged with assault, that attorney isn’t going to be much use to you.
Criminal law is its own complex beast, with legal precedents that evolve rapidly over the years even within a single ZIP code. You need an attorney that’s well-versed in criminal law, but more than that, you need an attorney that’s well-versed in your specific case.
In addition, you’ll want to find an attorney whose experience matches your aims. If you want to go to trial and argue your case before a jury of your peers, it won’t do you any good to hire an attorney that has never set foot in a courtroom.
Confidence, Not Arrogance
Unfortunately, no lawyer can infallibly predict the outcome of your case, no matter how talented they are or how strong your case is.
Look for an attorney that takes the time to build a strong case through extensive preparation, rather than an attorney who makes empty promises they cannot keep.
A Strong Legal Team
As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. In criminal law, it takes a team to win a case.
Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, preparing a criminal case is not a one-man show. It requires a complete team of paralegals, administrative staff, and even other lawyers to help your attorney prepare your case.
So when you’re looking into a criminal defense attorney, don’t focus all of your attention on the attorney. Take the time to look at the team they have on hand–if they don’t have much of a team to speak of, they may not have the means to adequately prepare for your case.
If you’re not sure where to begin when looking for an attorney, a good place to start is with references.
Ask friends and family members if they know of any great criminal defense lawyers, especially if you happen to know any lawyers in your circle. Chances are, someone knows of an attorney they’re willing to speak well of.
This doesn’t end once you’ve started interviewing an attorney, either. Ask an attorney if they have any former clients who are willing to speak to their abilities. The client can’t tell you every detail of their case, but they can share the experience of working with that attorney.
Someone You Can Understand and Trust
Finally, you want to look for an attorney who you can understand–and trust.
By necessity, lawyers often use complex legal jargon when preparing legal documents and defending you in court. But that doesn’t mean you should be drowning in jargon.
On the contrary–a good attorney will take the time to explain things to you in plain English, without oversimplifying or talking down to you.
Part of this is finding an attorney you can trust. Your attorney will have to live in your pockets for a while, and in a criminal case, they may find out some unflattering facts about you.
The fact is, your attorney cannot adequately defend you if you don’t feel comfortable showing them the full version of the story, warts and all. If they find out something in the middle of a trial, the best they can do is scramble to contain the damage.
Find an attorney who you can trust to talk straight to you–and an attorney you trust enough to do their job even after hearing the unattractive side of the story.
Do You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you need a criminal defense attorney, chances are, you’re stressed out, terrified about the future, and uncertain what to do next.
That’s where we can help.
We’re experienced criminal defense attorneys who know how to assemble a case and fight for your rights. If you need to speak with an attorney about the details of your case, click here to get in touch.