A criminal advocate, more commonly known as a criminal defense attorney, is a type of lawyer who specializes in criminal law. Specifically, a criminal defense attorney focuses on protecting the legal rights of their client and making sure that the rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution continue to be upheld as they were intended. 

A criminal defense attorney may be hired by either a single defendant or a group of defendants who have been charged with a crime. These kinds of lawyers help guide their clients through every step of a criminal case as well as through the justice system. In addition, criminal defense attorneys assist in getting their clients’ sentences reduced and can put forth requests for alternative sentencing options if such an option is available. 

Criminal charges should be taken very seriously. Many convictions can lead to hefty criminal fines and jail time. Thus, it is important that you handle criminal matters with care and follow the proper procedural requirements. A criminal defense lawyer can help you do just that by informing you about your rights under the law, conducting research to find potential defenses you can raise against your charges, and providing representation in criminal court. 

To initiate the process of finding the right criminal defense attorney for your case, you should start by performing an online search for lawyers who practice criminal law in your area. Within your search results, you will most likely see ads for individual firms, various attorney referral service providers, state and local bar associations, and legal aid and pro bono services. Click on the link for the results that best suits your needs.

For example, if you require financial assistance to hire an attorney, try contacting one of the legal aid or pro bono service providers that appear in your search results. On the other hand, if you only need the contact information of a criminal defense attorney who practices in your area, you may want to visit the website for your state and/or local bar association instead. You can also use LegalMatch to both search for and hire a criminal defense attorney. Registration is free.

Finally, one last note to bear in mind regarding legal representation is that defendants in a criminal case have a constitutional right to an attorney. Therefore, if you cannot afford to pay for legal representation, the state must provide and pay for an attorney on your behalf. In most cases, this means that an attorney from the local Public Defender’s Office will be appointed to represent you.

Where Should I Look to Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

As discussed above, there are a number of resources to use in order to find a criminal defense lawyer for a case. Aside from visiting state and local bar association websites or reviewing individual search engine results, a person should also check with their own personal network (e.g., family, friends, colleagues, etc.) to see if anyone has recommendations for criminal defense lawyers that they know or have personally hired in the past. 

Alternatively, if a person is currently working with a lawyer or has worked with one in the past, they should try reaching out to them to see if they have any recommendations as well. This is true even if the attorney that a person is currently or was working with specializes in a different area of law. 

Some other criteria that an individual should think about before officially hiring a criminal defense lawyer include:

  • How much money they can set aside to pay for a lawyer;
  • Whether they need financial assistance or for the state to pay for one;
  • The type of criminal lawyer that their case requires (e.g., white-collar crimes vs. drunk driving violations);  
  • Where the lawyer is located in their jurisdiction and whether that location is convenient;
  • Whether they would feel comfortable working with that lawyer on their case and can trust them; 
  • The amount of experience the lawyer has and if it is enough (e.g., an attorney with two years of criminal defense experience is more than enough for someone accused of not paying a parking ticket, but may not be sufficient for someone who is charged with committing first-degree murder); and
  • If the person has particular preferences concerning a lawyer’s background (e.g., where the lawyer went to law school, what firm they work for now, if they have any awards, have they published any works after graduating law school, etc.). 

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

In general, most attorneys will schedule a consultation session before they agree to take on a case. This meeting can be very beneficial for prospective clients who are well-prepared since it will give them an opportunity to personally evaluate the attorney prior to officially hiring them. 

The best way that a prospective client can prepare for a consultation meeting with a criminal defense attorney is by drafting a list of any questions or concerns they may have about their case, the legal services that the attorney provides, and the attorney’s background.

The following is a list of some important questions that a person may want to ask a potential criminal defense attorney in advance of retaining them. These include:

  • Whether the consultation session is free, and if not, what do they charge for it?;
  • How do they structure their fee arrangements? (e.g., do they bill by the hour, or is it a flat fee?);
  • Have they ever handled similar cases? If so, how many and what were the outcomes of those cases?;
  • How long does the attorney expect the case to go on for? (note that this will vary drastically by case and may even change during the course of it);
  • What type of law do they practice? Do they specialize in any subcategories or particular matters within criminal law?;
  • How many years of legal experience do they have in the criminal defense field?;
  • Are there other ways to resolve the case, or is court the only option?;
  • How often does the attorney update their clients? Is there a certain method they use to stay in touch with clients? What is it? Are they reachable by that same method?; and
  • Will the attorney-client privilege cover details about the case that are disclosed in the meeting? Will the privilege still apply, even if the attorney is not chosen to represent them?

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that each case has its own unique set of factors. Thus, the above list should not be treated as a strict interpretation, but as more of a flexible guideline to assist with formulating questions that are better tailored to a person’s circumstances. 

What are the Advantages of Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney?

There are many advantages to having a choice over which criminal defense attorney a person can hire. For one, it means that the attorney that a person selects is someone whom they felt comfortable working with and can trust. 

Oftentimes, when a person cannot choose their own attorney and they are assigned one through a service or appointed one by a Public Defender’s Office, they might not feel as confident about working with them, which could potentially hurt their case.

Another advantage to choosing a criminal defense attorney is that a person can narrow down the type of lawyer they are looking for, such as the amount of experience they have, how much they are willing to pay for them, their past track record for similar cases, and so forth. In other words, they can be extremely selective in the hiring process.

For instance, a person may want to consider hiring an attorney who is employed by a small law firm that specializes in criminal defense cases, as opposed to hiring one who works at a medium-sized law firm that handles various matters (e.g., family law, trust and estates, etc.). 

This can help to ensure that not only do all of the lawyers at the firm practice criminal law, but also that it is more likely that lawyers at a smaller firm will only have time to focus on a handful of cases.

What Does a Defense Attorney Do in a Criminal Case?

The following is a basic outline of what happens in a criminal case:

  • A person or group of persons commit a crime;
  • Law enforcement is then asked to investigate the crime (or in some cases may bear witness to it);
  • After the police investigate and collect the evidence, they may arrest a person of interest;
  • The police will submit the evidence and any information they have about the suspect to a local district attorney or state prosecutor’s office;
  • The district attorney or state prosecutor will decide whether there is enough evidence to charge the suspect, and if there is, they will file a case against them in criminal court; 
  • The suspect will then attend an arraignment hearing where they will either plead guilty or not guilty to the charges;
  • Their plea will trigger the pretrial process (i.e., the stages where both the prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney build their respective cases);
  • If the defendant does not enter into a plea bargain agreement, they will go to trial, which can be held either before both a judge and jury, or just a judge (i.e., a bench trial);
  • Once trial ends, the judge and/or jury will decide the outcome of the case;
  • If the defendant is guilty, then they will need to attend a sentencing hearing where the court will issue a punishment; and
  • Finally, the defendant may file an appeal to try to reverse the decision of the trial court.

Unlike a civil lawsuit, a criminal case is initiated by a government actor. In most criminal cases, this government representative is usually a district attorney or state prosecutor. Prosecutors have the authority to recommend and request that a court impose certain criminal penalties as well as the power to drop the charges or a case. 

Prosecutors do not provide the same legal services as a criminal defense attorney. They are meant to embody the government and to ensure that the laws are being properly enforced. They also serve as a mouthpiece for the victims of a crime. However, victims do not typically receive remedies in criminal court with the exception of restitution. If a victim wants to pursue monetary damages against a defendant, they will need to file a claim in civil court. 

On the other hand, criminal defense attorneys represent defendants. Defendants are individuals or groups of individuals who have been accused of committing a crime. Among many other tasks, a good criminal lawyer will review the facts of a defendant’s case, make sure that the police followed the proper procedures to gather evidence, hire expert witnesses to testify on behalf of the defendant, and provide solid representation in court. 

When Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?

If you are currently facing charges for committing a crime, you should contact a local criminal lawyer immediately. An experienced criminal lawyer can determine whether there are any defenses available that you can raise and can help you devise a legal strategy that has the potential to reduce or drop the charges. Your lawyer can also inform you of your legal rights as a criminal defendant and can make sure that those rights are being protected.

Additionally, your lawyer will be able to provide representation either in court or while making a deal for a plea bargain arrangement. Your lawyer can also answer any questions you may have throughout the process. They can offer you legal advice on issues that may arise during your case, which you may need to make important decisions about the case that could impact your personal life.