If you're looking at prison time or a hefty fine, it's a good idea to look into hiring the best criminal defense lawyer possible, unless your income qualifies you to get a court-appointed lawyer. To put it simply, the legal system is designed in such a way that, even if you have a great mind and a high IQ, representing yourself in a criminal trial in a competent manner is almost impossible.
Because no one criminal case is exactly like another, criminal defense lawyers are trained to pick out the special portions of each case that make them unique. In addition, the best criminal defense lawyer for you may be able to spot certain arguments and factors that could mitigate or even negate any potential crime. When all is said and done, hiring an attorney to represent you in your criminal trial is a necessity.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
A criminal defense lawyer has many jobs. In addition to calling witnesses in your defense and cross-examining the prosecution's witnesses, your criminal defense attorney may also:
Work with you and the prosecutor to negotiate a "plea bargain."
A plea bargain can reduce your potential sentence or eliminate some of the charges brought against you. However, prosecutors are often unwilling to negotiate with defendants that represent themselves.
Figure out a good sentencing program for your situation.
In the event that you're found guilty, your criminal defense attorney may be able to work your sentence in a way that would prevent you from winding back up in the criminal justice system. For instance, instead of going to prison for 10 months for a drug possession conviction, your criminal defense attorney may suggest a prison sentence of 6 months and 4 months in a drug treatment facility to help you with the drug problem that landed you in trouble in the first place.
Provide you with a reality check.
Defense lawyers often know what's going on much better than you will during your criminal trial and what's likely to happen in the near future. Defense attorneys have the advantage of remaining objective throughout a proceeding and can offer insights into how the trial is actually going. These assessments and reality checks are often essential when a criminal defendant is trying to decide whether or not to accept a prosecutor's plea bargain.
Point out important legal rules and regulations that you most likely wouldn't find on your own.
Many rules about criminal prosecutions are buried within regulations and laws, and even prior court decisions. For example, if you were to represent yourself, you may never know if the search that the police conducted of your apartment was lawful or not without understanding the many nuances and intricacies surrounding the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Navigate your case through the state legal system where your case is being heard.
In addition to written rules, such as the local rules of court, that must be obeyed and followed, there are often many "unwritten rules" that go along with each jurisdiction. For example, if only certain prosecutors are able to make and approve plea bargains, your criminal defense lawyer may save you time (and maybe even jail time) by talking to the right person the first time.
Explain about some of the "hidden costs" that come along with pleading guilty.
Many people that represent themselves never think about the consequences of pleading guilty if it could lead to a shorter sentence. For example, if you plead guilty, you may find it very hard to find a job once you've completed your punishment.
Be able to more easily gather evidence and statements from witnesses that are going to be called by the prosecution.
Many witnesses, understandably so, refuse to give statements or information to people that were allegedly involved in a crime, for fear of their own safety. However, these witnesses are often much more willing to talk to an attorney about their upcoming testimony.
Find and hire investigators and expert witnesses.
Investigators can investigate not only the alleged crime but also the prosecution's witnesses. If these investigators can find evidence that would make a witness's testimony less believable, this could help your case tremendously. Similarly, expert witnesses may be able to present evidence that would tend to show your innocence or rebut evidence that the prosecution presents, making the prosecution's case less credible.
Reading Books Can't Replace Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Unbeknownst to many criminal defendants that seek to represent themselves, reading books that spell out crimes, punishments and defenses probably won't lead you to victory in your case. As any seasoned lawyer will tell you, there's quite a vast difference between reading about the law and actually practicing the law in court. Understanding the ebbs and flows of a criminal trial can make the difference between winning and losing your case.
"Prosecutorial discretion" is a prime example of these ebbs and flows. The simple decision of what to charge a criminal defendant with can make the difference in how a case is handled. For example, what may appear to be a simple crime on paper could realistically be cast to be a multiple count indictment, or a simple misdemeanor. Criminal defense lawyers are skilled at negotiating with prosecutors to figure out what counts to charge.
So, if you're really set on representing yourself in court, you should, at the very least, retain the best criminal defense lawyer possible to act as a coach during your trial.
Get Professional Help from a Criminal Defense Expert
As you can see, a good criminal defense lawyer can not only make your job easier, but also improve your chances of winning your case or obtaining a more favorable plea bargain. Even if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney, there's nothing keeping you from speaking with an experienced attorney to obtain a second opinion on your case. Get started today and find an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.