When a person has entered the criminal justice system, it is important that they receive good counsel. Only with good advice can they hope to obtain the best outcome possible. While it is advisable to hire an attorney or use a court-appointed one, it is also possible to defend oneself. There are organizations that will help a defendant mount his or her own defense. This section contains advice for conducting a defense against criminal charges and tips for finding the right attorney and helping them to make the best case possible.
Private Counsel or Public Defender
Not everyone can afford a private attorney, even if they would like to. Alternatively, someone who owns property or earns a decent living may not qualify for the assistance of a public defender. However, there are many who have both options available to them.
Public defenders are often pressed for time due to their high caseload and lack of support from a staff of paralegals and assistance. As a result they may meet with their clients rarely, or just on the eve of a significant court event. On the other hand, they often know the courtroom that they practice in regularly better than private attorneys because they are there on a daily basis, while a private attorney likely travels to various courts nearby and many courtrooms within a single courthouse. As a result, the public defender may better understand the attitude of the judge and the willingness of the prosecutor to negotiate certain kinds of pleas.
Private attorneys generally have more time to spend with their clients, though this also varies greatly. Cost is another highly variable aspect. Paying more doesn't necessarily mean better representation though and some private attorneys are as pressed for time as their public sector counterparts. Others will take the time to discuss your case and ensure that you have an active role in decision-making. Private attorneys can help access other resources unavailable to a public defender, such as the use of an investigator or expert witness. They may employ a team, working on different aspects of your defense and otherwise provide a more comprehensive set of tools to resolve your case.
Hiring an Appellate Attorney
Trial lawyers and appellate lawyers have very different skill sets. They also approach representation differently. At trial issues may arise quickly and the attorney has to contend with a changing understanding of the case. Although the attorney needs to know the law well many of the most important things that happen have more to do with the personalities and moods of the people involved. A good trial attorney depends on timing. Asking the right question at the right moment can change the whole direction of a case.
An appellate attorney, on the other hand, has few surprises to deal with. On appeal, the attorney will scour the record looking for legal issues and procedural defects. Rather than adjusting to rapid changes and engaging in negotiations they carefully research legal topics and form complicated arguments about the interpretation and application of the law. Because of these differences in attitude and approach it can be helpful to hire a separate appeals attorney if you need to appeal a decision of the court.