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What Is a Criminal Justice Attorney?

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A criminal justice lawyer is a lawyer who has been trained to work in the U.S. criminal justice system. They are responsible for representing either the state or a criminal defendant throughout the entirety of a criminal trial. Criminal justice lawyers play an important role in the U.S. criminal justice system. 

In general, most criminal justice lawyers receive their training during law school and through various training and accreditation programs. They must be licensed by the state bar in the area where they are practicing. Criminal justice lawyers usually work as either prosecutors or as criminal defense lawyers

What Does a Criminal Prosecutor Do?

A Criminal Prosecutor is a type of lawyer who is responsible for bringing a case against an accused person in a criminal trial. The burden of proof initially rests on the prosecutor, who must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is because a criminal defendant is always considered to be innocent until proven guilty.  

Criminal prosecutors usually become involved in a criminal case only when a suspect has been identified, and charges are to be filed against them. A prosecutor is typically employed by the state or by federal authorities and they are often appointed through a local election. 

Some of the tasks and responsibilities of a criminal prosecutor may include:

  • Deciding whether or not to file criminal charges against a suspect
  • Research the facts and information surrounding a case to determine if the evidence will be strong enough to support a claim
  • Deciding whether or not to engage in plea bargains with the opposite attorney
  • Interviewing witnesses and reviewing their testimonies
  • Presenting evidence to the jury in a convincing manner
  • Maintain relations with judges, court staff, the defense counsel, and other criminal justice employees

In other words, a criminal prosecutor assertively pursues prosecution of persons whom the state reasonably believes to be guilty of violating criminal laws

What Is a Criminal Defense Attorney?

A Criminal Defense Attorney is a type of lawyer who defends criminal defendants during trial. They are responsible for providing the defendant with legal advice, counsel, and representation during criminal trial.   

If a criminal defendant is unable to afford their own attorney, the state will provide a public defender for them. However, many criminal defense attorneys work separately from the state through a private criminal defense firm. 

Unlike prosecutors, a criminal defense lawyer may become involved at a much earlier stage in the criminal justice process. They often begin providing legal services even before criminal charges have been formally filed against the suspect. For example, they can assist and protect suspects who are being interrogated by the police or other legal authorities.    

Some of the tasks that criminal defense lawyers routinely perform are:

  • Assisting suspects who have requested the presence of a lawyer during police interrogations and other procedures
  • Assisting suspects during critical pre-trial phases
  • Engaging in plea negotiations with the prosecutor, to obtain a reduced sentence or to have the charges dropped
  • Researching the facts and laws involved in the criminal case
  • Actively defending criminal suspects in court during trial
  • Raising defenses that may be available and advantageous for the defendant (such as self-defense, defense of property, etc.)
  • Interviewing key witnesses to obtain testimony
  • Filing for an appeal or retrial if available

Also, many criminal defense lawyers continue to work with a defendant until well after trial. This is because the client may often need legal assistance with post-trial issues such as parole or probation.

Do I Need a Criminal Justice Lawyer?

If you are involved in any way with criminal charges, you may wish to contact a criminal justice lawyer as necessary. If you are facing criminal charges, a criminal defense attorney can help represent you in court. Or, if you have been the victim of a crime, a criminal prosecutor can help you through the process. Many victims of crime choose to work with their own private prosecutor instead of a state-appointed prosecutor.  

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-06-2017 11:59 PM PST

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