Many resources exist to help people find attorneys that will resolve their legal matters. Before hiring a lawyer -- including the right criminal defense attorney -- it is important to conduct research and ask questions. Criminal defense lawyers are hired by defendants. Defendants can be individuals or a group of people. 

Criminal defense attorneys assist in protecting the legal rights of their clients during every step of a criminal case. It is important to have the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney because the consequences involved in criminal matters can be severe and have a life-long impact. The legal process can be overwhelming. Finding the right lawyer helps alleviate some of the stress involved and guides defendants to the best possible outcome.

Where Should I Look to Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

There are many resources to find a criminal defense attorney. Some ideas of how to find an attorney include:

  • Ask for recommendations from family and friends that may have had their own past needs to work with a lawyer.
  • Ask for a referral from another attorney. If you worked or currently work with an attorney in another area of law (for example, you may have had a trust and estate attorney draft your will) -- ask that lawyer if they can refer you to a criminal law attorney.
  • Check with your state’s bar association. Attorneys must be members of the state bar in order to practice law in the state. State bar associations often can provide the general public with information on hiring an attorney.
  • Conduct an internet search for a criminal defense attorney in your neighborhood.

As noted above, researching different attorneys and gathering as much information about the lawyer you may hire is important. The reality of some legal matters, however, does not allow for extra time to conduct lengthy, if any, research. 

For example, if someone is incarcerated, and cannot afford to hire an attorney, then 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 by your side to protect your rights in criminal matters.

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What Should I Ask a Criminal Defense Attorney I’m Thinking of Hiring?

Each case is different, so, use the following list as a guideline to assist in forming questions for a potential attorney you may want to hire:

  • Do you offer a free consultation?
  • Have you ever dealt with cases similar to mine?
    • If so, how many and what was the outcome?
  • What is the price -- often given as an advance payment called a retainer fee -- of hiring the attorney?
  • What is the timeframe for the case?
  • How many years experience do you have?
  • What options do I have 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?

When a defendant hires an attorney, a special confidential relationship is formed. Basically, this means that most all communications between the lawyer and defendant are secret. In most cases, this also applies to any discussions made between an individual and a potential attorney. 

What Happens in a Criminal Case?

A civil case usually involves private citizens or businesses. The person or entity that brings a civil lawsuit against another party is usually looking to be financially reimbursed for some sort of damages. In criminal cases the party that brings the lawsuit is typically the government. The government imposes punishments -- jail time, fines, probation, etc. -- on the defendant.

Here is a basic outline of what is involved in a criminal case:

  • Police/law enforcement investigate or witness the potential crime;
  • Person of interest is arrested;
  • The state’s attorneys -- prosecutors -- decide whether or not there is enough evidence in the case to press charges;
  • Indictment, or formal charges are filed, by the government;
  • Arraignment hearing is held where the defendant pleads to the charges;
  • Pretrial process occurs where the government and defendant’s attorneys build their cases;
  • Trial takes place before a judge or judge and jury and they decide the outcome of the case;
  • Sentencing happens if the defendant is found guilty of the crime; and
  • Appeal may be filed to try to reverse the decision.
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When Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?

A defendant in a criminal matter should hire a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The attorney’s job is to protect the defendant’s rights and also to advise and lay out the scenarios or possibilities of what may occur in the case. It is imperative that the rights of the defendant are protected and the best way to do this is to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.