Criminal law is designed to address and punish behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, or public. This remains true even if the victim is an individual person. If a person is convicted of a crime, they may be forced to pay fines and may lose their freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time.
But no matter if someone is being charged with a serious or a minor crime, the accused person still has the right to a trial. Additionally, there are other certain other legal protections afforded to all American citizens. Every state has its own set of criminal laws. However, there are certain Constitutional rights that apply to every defendant, no matter what that crime is or where it happened. These rights include:
- The Right to a Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. This is to prevent an accused person from being kept in jail for extended periods of time without adjudication;
- The Right to a Jury: The same Amendment also guarantees the right to a trial by jury. Many jurisdictions will allow the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, in which guilt is determined by a judge. However, this is to be the defendant’s choice only; no one else involved in the case may make this decision. This right is universal with criminal prosecution only, as civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights;
- Miranda Rights: Stemming from a famous Supreme Court case, Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense; and
- Protection Against Self-Incrimination: This is also known as “pleading the fifth,” and is a Constitutional protection that says that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest.
When retaining an attorney, you will need to first complete a legal consultation. A legal consultation is an initial meeting with an attorney, taking place before you decide whether to hire that attorney to represent you in your particular legal matter. The attorney will also use the consultation in order to determine if they can legally and competently represent you, based on the information that you provide them with during the consultation.
It is important to note that an initial legal consultation does not mean that the attorney is officially representing you, nor have they agreed to take your case. Generally speaking, for an attorney to legally represent you, there must be a written representation agreement signed by both you and the attorney. Otherwise, you must be able to prove that through their words or actions, the attorney consented to representing you.
What Type of Documents and Questions Should I Bring to My Criminal Defense Attorney?
Before consulting with an attorney, ensure that you properly prepare for the consultation by gathering any and all documentation associated with your legal issue. It is important to bring every document you have for the attorney to review, as the attorney will be able to properly determine which documents are relevant, and which are not.
Documents that you should bring with you may include any of the following:
- Police or accident reports;
- Property deeds;
- Employment records; or
- Other documents evidencing damages, such as medical records or expenses.
In terms of criminal defense specifically, you may wish to use the following list as a guideline when determining what questions you should ask at the consultation:
- Do you offer a free initial consultation?
- What is your experience in dealing with cases similar to mine? How many cases, and what was the outcome?
- What is your payment structure? Is there a retainer fee?
- What is the timeframe for the case?
- How many years of experience do you have practicing law?
- What options do I have in terms of how to resolve my matter?
- How will you keep in touch with me, and how often will you contact me regarding my case?
- Does the attorney-client privilege apply to discussions we have regarding my case, even if I do not hire you?
An initial consultation should include a discussion of the fees that an attorney may charge in order to represent you regarding your legal dispute. Attorney fee arrangements may be based on a contingency fee, a flat fee, or hourly fee basis. It is imperative to discuss an attorney’s fee arrangement during the consultation, especially if costs and fees will be a large determining factor in choosing who to retain.
Additionally, a consultation will always include a discussion of the legal facts and your legal claims. It is important to be honest in telling the attorney about your particular case, as lying about the facts or circumstances surrounding your case will lead to criminal sanctions or other civil penalties. Generally speaking, you should provide the attorney with all of the information you have whether it is helpful or harmful to your case. This is so that the attorney may properly evaluate your case.
When a defendant hires an attorney, a special confidential relationship is formed. What this means is that nearly all communications between the lawyer and defendant are kept secret. Generally speaking, this would also apply to any discussions made between an individual and a potential attorney.
Researching different attorneys, and gathering as much information as you can about the lawyer you may hire is important. However, some legal situations may not allow for extra time to conduct lengthy, if any, research.
An example of this would be if someone is incarcerated, and cannot afford to hire an attorney. The court will provide information regarding a court appointed attorney. While it is a good practice to research potential attorneys to hire, it is most crucial to have an attorney to protect your rights in criminal matters.
What Makes a Strong or Weak Criminal Defense Case?
As noted above, every criminal case is unique. This means that what makes a strong or weak criminal defense case is different in every case. In most cases, the best defense for a criminal case is that the prosecution cannot prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Thus, if there is evidence that the defendant did not commit the crime they were charged with, that is the best legal defense. An attorney can examine other legal defenses that may be available, given the particulars of the defendant’s case.
When Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you are facing criminal charges, you should hire a criminal lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney’s job is to protect your Constitutional rights. Additionally, they will provide you with legal advice and detail the potential scenarios of what may occur in your case.
It is important that the attorney you choose is local to your area, as state criminal laws vary greatly. An experienced and local criminal defense attorney will be best suited to ensuring you understand how those laws will affect your case. They will also determine whether any legal defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case, and work to reduce your sentence when possible.