A criminal defense lawyer is a type of lawyer who specializes in defending their clients from criminal charges. Different types of criminal defense lawyers focus on different areas of the law. So it is important to know what to look for in a top criminal defense lawyer and why.
The alternative to hiring a criminal defense lawyer is to represent yourself, also known as pro se representation.
If you are considering representing yourself in a criminal case, remember that there is a reason you are legally entitled to a lawyer when you are charged with a crime. It is incredibly difficult for any person to handle their own case. Trained lawyers normally opt to hire other lawyers to defend themselves if they are charged with a crime, rather than represent themselves.
Being charged with a crime is a dizzying and disorienting experience. A top criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the choppy seas of the law. And do so with far more accuracy and precision than you could accomplish on your own, and hopefully, steer you to shore without incident.
Why Do I Need A Top Criminal Defense Lawyer?
When you are charged with a crime, what to look for in a criminal defense lawyer is the appropriate experience. This is not to say you should hire the oldest criminal defense lawyer you can find, but that you should hire the criminal defense lawyer who has successfully handled cases like yours in your area.
For example, if the state charges you with armed robbery in Phoenix, you don’t want to hire a criminal defense lawyer who handles DUIs in Tuscon. You want to hire a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer who handles armed robbery.
When you hire a top criminal defense lawyer in your area, you are hiring them for:
- their experience in courtrooms in that area
- for the relationships they have with judges and prosecutors
- for their expertise in that area of the law.
Books Can’t Teach You Everything
Unfortunately, not everything in criminal justice is about the letter of the law. Books can’t teach you what a criminal defense lawyer gains by experience. In an ideal world, the law would exist independent of society’s whims. However, there are natural human biases that create a massive gap between the theory of law and the practice of law.
Books can tell you:
- the definition of a specific crime
- various precedents and case studies
- past sentences handed down to defendants charged with the same crime.
Books lay down criminal law as a map, well-ordered and precise. A top criminal lawyer can see the world of law and courtrooms for what it is: a universe of interlocking and interweaving parts.
The Power of the Prosecution
Many people do not realize that members of the public are not the ones to “press charges” on a defendant. This is almost completely at the discretion of the prosecutor.
On paper, the state charges a defendant with a certain crime. This crime carries a specific sentence, cut and dry, no two ways about it. In reality, this largely depends on the prosecutor. A top criminal defense attorney can negotiate a prosecutor down to a less serious alternative. Without an attorney, the prosecutor may choose to pursue a more serious one.
A top criminal defense lawyer who has an established professional relationship with the prosecutors in your area can only benefit you.
Pressure from the Community
Justice may be blind, but judges and prosecutors are not, and they are certainly not deaf to their communities. Judges must be elected into office and want the community to re-elect them. Prosecutors want to have a large number of successful cases under their belt. And the police expect the cases they bring to a prosecutor to result in consequences for a defendant.
With certain cases, there can be public scrutiny, either due to the nature of the crime or the identity of the defendant. The public might expect the system to “crackdown” on certain cases. Only an attorney with experience in your area and with the justice system there can navigate these obstacles skillfully.
In short, imagine the world of criminal justice as a maze. Your criminal defense lawyer has walked it dozens of times and come out the other side each and every time. Why would you not want them to guide you?
What Can A Top Criminal Defense Lawyer Do For Me?
No matter how well-educated or smart you are, it is almost impossible for you to handle your case as competently as a top criminal defense lawyer would.
A top criminal defense lawyer handling your case will:
- Negotiate with prosecutors to lessen sentences or reduce charges. Prosecutors may not be as cooperative with a self-represented defendant
- Tailor their client’s sentencing program to their specific needs and help their clients minimize future brushes with the law
- Give an honest and objective view of the defendant’s situation. This can help a defendant determine whether or not they should take a plea bargain offered by the prosecution
- Be familiar with various state and federal laws and court precedents, and how they interact with each other. Oftentimes these precedents become buried in old case studies or state constitutions. These would be difficult to find for any layman.
- Know the ends and outs of unwritten court customs. For example, a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer will know which arguments appeal to the prosecutors in Phoenix.
- Understand all the potential drawbacks to pleading guilty which a self-represented defendant might not.
- Be able to spend time on the case their client can’t afford. Most people do not have the time or energy to expend on the research necessary to craft an effective legal case. This is more so the case if they work full-time or have families.
- Gather information from relevant witnesses. Most people who witness a crime or have knowledge relevant to it are more willing to talk to a lawyer than to the person accused of committing the crime.
- Helps their clients deal with the fear, shame, feelings of anxiety, and embarrassment associated with criminal charges.
How Much Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost?
Every citizen of the United States may exercise their right to a lawyer when they are accused of a crime. If you can’t afford one, the state appoints one to you. However, though the public defenders’ office in your area is likely to have talented lawyers, they are frequently underpaid and overworked. It is always best to hire a private defense lawyer if you are able. But there is a cost factor for many people.
There are multiple ways criminal defense lawyers bill for their cases. Some of the more common include:
Attorneys who bill by the hour require payment for the actual amount of time they spend working on the case. And this is based on the given hourly rate. There are both advantages and disadvantages to hourly billing.
If your case is likely to conclude quickly, hourly billing may be beneficial to you. If your case becomes complicated, hours and fees can stack up very quickly.
Despite the potential disadvantages, many top criminal defense lawyers can anticipate roughly how many hours a case will take.
A top criminal defense lawyer might have a fixed fee for certain types of cases. For instance, they may always charge the same fee for drunk driving cases, the same fee for assault cases, etc. This type of billing also has various advantages and disadvantages.
One huge advantage is the certainty that once you pay a single fee, there will be no extra cost, no matter how complicated your case becomes. However, this can turn into a disadvantage if your case is resolved quickly.
One way lawyers and their clients reach a compromise is by mixing hourly and case billing. A defendant will agree to pay by the hour, but only up to a certain amount. That way, if the attorney resolves the case quickly, the lawyer has been properly compensated. And, the defendant will not feel as though they have overpaid. If the case becomes complicated and lengthy, the defendant will not have to pay more than the previously agreed-upon cap.
No matter how they handle their billing, most top criminal defense lawyers will ask for a retainer. A retainer is a fee paid prior to beginning work on the case, from their clients.
For example, if the attorney bills hourly, they might ask for the equivalent of 20 hours up front. The lawyer sends their clients regular reports showing how many hours were spent on their case. It will also show how those hours were spent. If the lawyer believes they will work more than 20 hours on the case, they will ask for an additional fee, unless they previously agreed to a cap.
You should always discuss fees and expenses with your lawyer during the hiring process to avoid confusion later in your case.