It is the job of criminal defense attorneys to represent those charged with crimes in court. Crimes can range in severity from a misdemeanor to a felony. Punishment can range from a minor fine or community service to years in prison or even death.
Representation during criminal proceedings is critical for those charged with committing a crime. In fact, the U.S. Constitution promises that all citizens charged with a crime will be provided representation. If you have retained the services of a criminal law lawyer or are seeking to retain one, you should know what services your attorney may be able to perform.
Why are Criminal Defense Attorneys Important?
Criminal law is a complex body of state and federal legislation. In fact, each state often sets its own definitions and punishments for state crimes. The majority of crimes are state crimes. Exceptions include causing damage to federal property or inflicting injury upon a federal employee.
The average person will not have an understanding of criminal law or the criminal justice process. Unfortunately ignorance or failing to understand criminal law is rarely an adequate defense to avoid being found guilty.
Although an individual has the right to represent himself or herself during criminal trial proceedings, the consequences of having poor legal representation can be severe. Misdemeanors, which are lesser crimes, might only entail a fine or a brief jail sentence, but felonies, which are more serious crimes, can lead to long prison terms. This is why it is so important to have someone knowledgeable about the law argue on your behalf.
Criminal Defense Attorney Services Pre-Trial
Criminal defense attorneys can assist clients throughout the criminal justice process, including pre-trial. Some people choose to retain a lawyer during the investigation period of a crime, before they are even charged. This often happens if someone is a suspect and has reason to believe that he or she will soon be charged. In these instances, a criminal defense lawyer may help instruct the individual while being questioned by authorities to ensure the suspect doesn’t divulge any incriminating information.
A criminal defense attorney can also help convince a court to drop charges against you based on insufficient evidence or improper procedure. For example, in many instances a police officer must have probable cause before making an arrest. Probable cause means a compelling reason to believe that you may have committed a crime. Criminal defense attorneys have a nuanced understanding of probable cause as it is defined within your jurisdiction and may be able to present a challenge to the officers reasoning in court. If the attorney can show that the officer may not have had probable cause to investigate the alleged crime scene and make an arrest, charges against you may be dropped before a trial even begins.
In addition, when you are arrested for a crime, you may be detained pending trial. However, you usually can be released as long as you provide a certain amount of money called bail. Bail is intended to ensure you show up for trial. A criminal defense attorney can attempt to persuade the court to reduce your bail or waive it altogether.
If you know you will be found guilty of committing a crime, you may want to try to enter into a plea bargain with the prosecution. A plea bargain is a negotiated agreement to reduce charges to a lesser crime or reduce sentencing. Your attorney can represent you during plea negotiations to increase your chances of receiving a reduced punishment. For example, if you are a minor and are accused of assault, some jurisdictions may wish to charge you as an adult. However, with the use of an attorney, you may be able to negotiate a deal so you instead are charged with juvenile assault.
Criminal Defense Attorney Services at Trial
Criminal defense attorneys can also assist you during the criminal trial. They can analyze your case, identifying its strengths and weaknesses. From there, your attorney and you can collaborate to come up with a defense strategy.
Your attorney can also discuss the pros and cons of pleading guilty, especially when a plea bargain may be on the table.
Your lawyer can also assist with the standard steps of a criminal trial, from jury selection to providing opening statements to questioning witnesses. And if your trial does not go in your favor, criminal defense attorneys can assist you with the appeals process.
If you have further questions about what a criminal defense attorney can do for you, schedule a consultation with one.
There are many criminal defense strategies and defense lawyer tactics available to fight criminal charges and win. And long treatises written on strategies and techniques in criminal defense.
The job of a skilled criminal defense lawyer is to select the best criminal defense attorney tactics after reviewing a case’s facts and circumstances.
Defense Lawyer Tactics
Determining the best criminal defense strategy and fighting criminal charges in court requires knowledge of arcane legal procedure, experience, judgement and a careful evaluation of all the following criminal prosecutor vs lawyer factors.
The 9 main factors that will determine your best defense strategy:
Defendant’s explanation of what happened & why
Witness and defendant credibility and reputation
Provable facts and physical evidence
Police investigation reports, errors & credibility
Expert or third party reports and testimony
Penal code charge and the required crime elements to prove
Criminal prosecutor strategy and prior history
Judicial precedent and the judge’s case history
The best criminal lawyers will weigh all these factors to develop a case theory and strategy most likely to succeed.
If you are facing prison time or harsh penalties, it is key to consult a top criminal defense attorney. No matter how smart you are, it is nearly impossible for non-lawyers to competently defend themselves.
Every case is unique and skilled lawyers must have the ability to identify the key arguments and elements of a crime that will drive the outcome.
1. Mistaken Identity
Incorrect witness identification is a major source for incorrect accusations. This can happen if a person’s description is similar to a criminal perpetrator or if a witness assumes someone committed a crime due to circumstances or they are trying to cover for a crime they committed.
Most offenses in California’s Penal Code include deliberate offenses in which the violator intentionally carried out the crime. If your criminal justice lawyer can show the act to be accidental, there is a substantial defense against the charge.
3. Duress or Immediate Danger
In the event that somebody carries out a crime simply because they believed they were in immediate risk of harm, their actions might not be considered a crime since they were made under duress.
4. Defendant has an Alibi
A defendant cannot be guilty of many offenses if their criminal defense attorney can show they were elsewhere when the crime occurred and therefore couldn’t have committed the alleged crime.
Entrapment happens when a normally law-abiding citizen commits an offense because of intimidation, coercion, or law enforcement going too far to persuade someone to violate the law. This is common with undercover police operations. Entrapment is most often raised by a good lawyer as a defense in court for prostitution, child pornography and drug offenses.
6. Police Misconduct
Unfortunately some law enforcement officials commit misconduct during their investigations. Police officers may wish to cover up a mistake they made during their initial investigation or they may just be convinced a suspect is guilty and engage in misconduct in order to build a stronger case.
Police misconduct can take many forms, but some of the most common are:
Lying or embellishing facts in court room testimony or in their reports
Improperly handling, planting or doctoring evidence
Using unnecessary force like tasers or pepper spray on cooperative subjects
Coercing witnesses and suspects
If your criminal defence lawyer can identify and prove police misconduct, then that may provide leverage for dismissing your case and potentially pursuing a civil rights claim seeking damages.
7. Compelled or False Confessions
In many cases, police have been known to coerce false admissions from innocent suspects using different mental strategies and even physical threats, starvation, and sleep deprivation. Juveniles are particularly vulnerable to coercion. If defense attorney trial tactics can show evidence of coercion, then a case can be made to have the admission tossed out.
8. Probable Cause
In 1968, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Terry vs. Ohio case that it is reasonable for an officer to stop an individual absent probable cause to arrest, as long as he can point to «specific articulable facts» that justify “probable cause” for the stop, search and arrest of that person. If there is not probable cause, defense can file a motion to suppress any improperly obtained evidence.
9. Falsely Accused
It is common that individuals are falsely accused of violations they didn’t commit. For example, child abuse, sex crime and domestic violence accusations can be made without any physical evidence. Top criminal defense attorneys can work to obtain a retraction of the accusation or show evidence that the accusations were false or impugn the credibility of the accuser.
10. Mistake of Fact
If an alleged crime was made under a reasonable and honest mistake of fact, then the person is not guilty of most criminal offenses. For example, accidentally taking someone’s property believing it was yours.
In California the legal defence of “necessity” excuses criminal conduct when it is done only to avoid a greater harm. An accused can be acquitted of a charge if they believe that they or another person is in danger or about to be harmed and the only reasonable alternative is to do the criminal act. The necessity to commit the crime must be provable with evidence.
12. Self Defense or Defense of Others
California recognizes the “castle doctrine” which applies to one’s home, place of business, or other real property. An individual injuring another or using deadly force has no duty to retreat. But castle doctine rights end when an individual is no longer on their real property.
In general, force used against an intruder must be reasonable and proportionate to the harm reasonably feared. Therefore there is a valid defense if you believe that you or another person face imminent danger and you only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to alleviate that danger and escape is not a reasonable choice.
13. Involuntary Intoxication
Many criminal statutes require “specific intent” to commit crimes. If a defendant was involuntarily intoxicated, that is generally a complete defense to almost any crime. For example, if someone slips a drug into a defendant’s drink causing them to become involuntarily intoxicated. Or if a doctor prescribes a drug without warning of the potential side effects. However, you can only claim involuntary intoxication if you did not voluntarily take any intoxicating drugs or alcohol.
14. Plea of Insanity
In most instances, you cannot be found guilty of a crime if you were legally insane when you committed it because willful intent is a required criminal element.
California courts utilize a definition of legal insanity is known as the M’Naghten Rule (pronounced and sometimes spelled as McNaughton) named after Daniel M’Naghten, a Scottish woodturner who murdered an English official in 1843 while suffering from paranoid delusions. The M’Naghten Rule requires that the accused (1) did not understand the nature of the criminal act or (2) did not understand that the act was morally wrong.
Kansas, Montana, Idaho and Utah do not allow the insanity defense. Other state jurisdictions each utilize one or more of the four following legal tests of insanity:
Model Penal Code Test
Irresistible Impulse Test
The insanity defense test utilized by each state jurisdiction is reviewed here.
15. Double Jeopardy
The US Constitution protects citizens from being prosecuted for the same crime twice and facing multiple punishments for the same crime. A suspect cannot be tried twice in the same court for the same crimes. So if a defendant is acquitted of a crime, prosecution cannot try for the same offense, even if new evidence comes to light.
16. Statute of Limitations
State criminal statute of limitations laws forbid prosecutors from charging someone with a crime that was committed more than a specified number of years ago. The purpose of these laws is to ensure that convictions rely only upon evidence that hasn’t deteriorated with time.
After the time of the statute has run, the accused is essentially free. Statutes of limitation generally require an accused person to be: (1) In the state where the crime was committed, (2) Gainfully employed, (3) Visible and not in hiding or under an assumed identity.
Each state establishes its own criminal statute of limitations, usually with different limits for different kinds of crimes. Under California penal code §799, the California criminal statute of limitations are generally as follows with some exceptions:
No statute of limitation: Murder, other offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment, embezzlement of public funds
6 years: Felonies punishable by 8 or more years in prison
3 years: Felonies punishable by imprisonment of less than 8 years, Misdemeanor violation committed on a minor under 14
2 years: Misdemeanor sexual exploitation by physician or therapist
1 year: Other misdemeanors
Statutory periods generally do not begin until the offense is or should have been discovered. And the statutory period is typically extended for up to 3 years of the time the accused is not in the state.
17. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
In 1970, the US Supreme Court ruled in the In Re Winship case that the US Constitution requires that the government must meet the strict «beyond reasonable doubt» legal standard when establishing guilt of criminal charges for both adults and juveniles alike.
Under US law, the more serious the consequences, the higher the standard of proof generally should be. Since criminal convictions involve potential loss of liberty in prison, the highest standard of proof applies.
The beyond reasonable doubt standard requires that the evidence be so convincing that no reasonable person would ever question the defendant’s guilt. This strict burden of proof requires that the jury (in some cases, the judge) have a moral certainty that the defendant is guilty and that the evidence offer no logical explanation or conclusion other than the defendant committed the crime.
This strict standard favors the defendant since defense has to merely establish a reasonable doubt about any of the key elements required for the crime to succeed. Good criminal lawyers often impress upon juries that thinking the defendant committed the crime is not sufficient for a conviction.
They must have moral certainty after considering all the facts that there is no doubt remaining and only one logical conclusion is left: the defendant is guilty. Criminal jury instructions note that all 12 jurors must unanimously agree on the verdict to convict.