The American legal system can be complex and confusing. This is especially true when you’ve been accused of committing a crime; often, the legal system is geared against people standing trial or facing allegations.
For instance, if you’re currently dealing with a criminal allegation and you’re wondering if a criminal defense attorney is right for you, the sheer amount of information from police officers, judges, and other sources can be extremely overwhelming.
Choosing whether or not to find a criminal defense attorney and choosing the correct person for the job is a daunting task. Today, we’re going to break the process down into three steps to make the decision process a little bit easier.
1. Type of Crime/Charge
First and foremost, the decision on whether or not to hire a criminal defense attorney requires some thought, depending on the type of charge. Any legal dispute, from a parking violation to a more serious offense can benefit from legal advice, but occasionally lesser cases don’t necessarily warrant an attorney.
If you’re currently facing small claims court or a traffic ticket, you can probably get away with paying the fine or appearing in court on your own. Small claims court generally involves small or no amount of money, and while a traffic ticket can be reduced by an attorney, you can likely pay or contest it on your own, if it is a small enough amount.
So, for which charges should you consider hiring a lawyer? A charge such as a DUI, a larger traffic violation with injury, or any felony will almost certainly require legal advice from a criminal defense attorney. The criminal legal process usually includes an arrest or summons from the court for a charge, a hearing outlining the charges, an arraignment hearing (where the guilty or not guilty plea is confirmed), a trial, and the verdict.
If found guilty, the person charged may also appeal. Without an attorney, the defendant would be forced to either represent themselves with no prior law experience or plea guilty at the arraignment hearing. In any criminal charge, consulting with a legal professional is a must to avoid unnecessary fines, jail time, or prosecution.
2. Sentencing/Plea Bargains
One of the most important things that a defense attorney can provide for a defendant is a defense in court. This includes representing the defendant during court proceedings, providing evidence and defense to a judge, and advising the defendant on their options. Attorneys are educated and trained to interpret the law to the benefit of their clients. An attorney has knowledge that could mean the difference between jail time and an innocent verdict.
A great example of this comes in the form of plea bargains. In many cases, before a trial reaches a verdict, the defendant and prosecutor can come together to discuss a deal. For instance, the most common plea bargain occurs when a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to dismiss more serious charges.
3. Finding the Right Defense Attorney
If you decide that your criminal case would benefit from a criminal defense attorney, you may be wondering what the next steps. If you cannot afford legal representation, the state will provide you an attorney if need be, but you should generally find your own representation, if possible.
A great attorney will have exceptional reviews, years of experience dealing with the type of charges you are facing, and align to your ethical viewpoint.
You can use your local Bar website to check if an attorney is licensed for your case, and many lawyers now use review sites to show off their client’s satisfaction.