You’ve caught a case and now you’re wondering if you need an attorney to help you fight the charges. What, exactly, will a criminal defense attorney do for you? Lots, actually, but maybe not what you’re thinking. Contrary to what TV shows and movies show you, there’s more to a criminal defense attorney’s job than standing before a jury and asking a gotcha question to a surprise witness that leaves everyone in the courtroom gasping and clutching their pearls. Much more.
Contact and retain an attorney as soon as possible and do not talk to law enforcement or the prosecution without your attorney present. You have a constitutional right to have your attorney there with you and to remain silent. Exercise it in no uncertain terms. If you have trouble determining what to look for in an attorney read some criminal defense FAQ‘s to ask your attorney.
If you were arrested and are sitting in jail, you’ll have an appearance before a judge who will decide how much bond to set for you. A bond is simply a guarantee that you will show up at your next court appearance. Sometimes it will require you to put up cash, surety, or property (maybe an amount you can pay or maybe an amount you’ll need a bail bondsman for) or sometimes you can get out on your own “personal recognizance”. That just means that you don’t have to pay to get out today – the judge is trusting you to show up at your next court date – but if you don’t you’ll be arrested and then have to pay to get out.
Obviously, getting out on bond minimizes the negative effects of your arrest and charge. You miss less work, don’t have to find childcare, and can carry on about your normal life while your case proceeds.
Bond arguments are important. Your attorney might tell the judge things about you that show you are responsible and will make your next appearance. Your job, contacts with the state/city/jurisdiction where you are charged, family obligations, and housing stability are all important factors that judges consider when setting bond. A good bond argument and favorable bond can make all the difference to you while you’re trying to sort out the rest of your case.
Negotiate With the Prosecution
Once the District Attorney files charges, you can expect to be contacted by him. You’ll likely be pressured to take a plea deal, which is an agreement that you won’t go to trial but just plead guilty to the charges (or maybe reduced charges), take the conviction on your criminal record, and somehow move on.
Do not take a plea deal without the advice of an attorney! Prosecutors are notorious for applying lots of pressure on people charged with crimes to scare them into taking a deal. It’s easier for them – they don’t have to prepare for and conduct a trial – and it moves cases off their desk so they can get on to the next one.
Your defense attorney can help you figure out if it’s really in your best interest to take a deal. Convictions, depending on the type of charge, can stay with you the rest of your life and affect everything from your ability to work to your ability to find housing, pursue education, and own weapons. They can also have enormous immigration consequences that your attorney can advise you of. A good attorney might also be able to negotiate lesser charges in your case, which will reduce the seriousness of the effects of your taking a deal.
The choice about whether or not to take a deal is yours alone, but your attorney can help you make it with all the knowledge you need and advise you about how strong the case against you is and whether you might want to take your case to trial.
Your case may require any number of hearings. You will always have a preliminary hearing. That’s where the prosecution has to show that there is enough preliminary evidence to proceed with your case. Your attorney will make arguments to show that the prosecution hasn’t met the legal standard required to pursue the charges.
If you take your case to trial, you may have motions hearings where your attorney will argue various requests asking the court to rule on certain issues before trial. Whether to file motions, which motions to file, and whether to take them to a hearing are all decisions that are based on the facts of your case and will vary greatly from case to case.
Take Your Case to Trial, if Necessary
It is your constitutional right to have a trial in front of a jury of your peers and if you decide to do so, your attorney now has a big job. Preparing for trial requires investigation, filing motions, interviewing witnesses and getting them ready to take the stand, going over evidence, talking to alleged victims, and preparing the opening statement and closing argument in your case. If you have more questions speaking with a lawyer and asking some some other FAQ about criminal defense could provide great insight.
The ability to effectively conduct a jury trial requires skills a lot of attorneys just don’t have. Knowing how to select a jury and how to relate to jurors, seeing opportunities to object to the prosecution’s evidence or witnesses, and understanding when to be aggressive and when to back off of witnesses are not skills that just magically happen for an attorney. They require training and experience and a good trial attorney can make or break your case, or in the worst case scenario, determine the strength of any appeal of your conviction.
Contact your attorney wisely. The last thing you want to have to do is challenge the effectiveness of your attorney’s representation while sitting in prison because you received a conviction due to shoddy work.