If you need to hire a criminal lawyer, it can be a bit like hiring a dentist or a doctor. You don’t really want to need one, but if you do it’s important to have one of the best you can find.
If you’re facing any kind of criminal charge, the black mark a guilty conviction can leave on your record can have a catastrophic effect on your life. Whenever you do things like rent an apartment or apply for a job, many times you’ll be asked if you have a criminal record.
If you do, you could get turned down from opportunities.
What Is a Criminal Lawyer
A good criminal lawyer wills server as your guide as you navigate the scary world of criminal law.
A criminal lawyer will have your best interest in mind as they review the case and explore the relevant laws that apply.
If you can’t afford a lawyer, in the United States you’re assigned a court-appointed attorney for free. These public defenders will do their best to defend you in court, but usually they are not the most highly skilled lawyers in the industry. Using a court-appointed public attorney will reduce the odds that the court or the jury will find in your favor.
In a few cases, people will choose to represent themselves. This is the worst choice unless you’re actually a trained attorney and you fully understand the laws and the charges that you’re facing.
A criminal lawyer will review your case, negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf, and ultimately will defend you in court when necessary. However in a very large majority of cases, good criminal lawyers are able to talk a prosecutor into things like reducing bail, reducing charges against you, or during a trial even if you’re found guilty they may be able to negotiate a dramatically reduced sentence.
A criminal defense lawyer will help you understand the charges you face, what the prosecutor is most likely to do to find you guilty, and how you should formulate your plea of the best possible outcome.
If your case does go to trial, your criminal lawyer will serve subpoenas to people to testify for you in court, they will have their private investigators collect evidence that could help in your defense, they’ll deeply research the past case literature for similar cases as yours that they can use to convince the judge or prosecutor of lessor charges or a smaller sentence.
Areas of Criminal Law
Not all criminal law is the same. This is why if you’re faced with specific legal charges, it’s very important to look for a criminal lawyer that specializes in and practices a very specific area of criminal law.
This means the lawyer will not only have a lot of experience defending other people who’ve faced the same charges, but they’ll have a great deal of knowledge in both federal and state laws that govern the area of criminal law you’re dealing with.
The major areas of criminal law include:
- Personal Crimes: These are crimes where something one person has done has caused either physical or psychological harm to someone else, or a group of people. The most grievous of these is obviously homicide, or murder. Lesser charges in this category include assault and battery, arson, child abuse, domestic abuse, kidnapping, or rape.
- Property Crime: When one person has done anything to damage the property of someone else, the charges fall within this category. Most commonly, this involves stealing someone else’s property. Examples of the types of charges people face in this category include theft, burglary, robbery, larceny, shoplifting, or auto theft.
- Inchoate Crime: Many people recognize this category as when you’re an “accessory”. For example you might not have robbed a bank, but you served as the getaway driver to help a criminal conduct a crime. Another example might be initiating a crime even though you didn’t take part. This might be conspiring with criminals to help plan a physical attack on someone else. Examples of charges in this category include “attempted” crimes, aiding and abetting, or criminal conspiracy.
- Statutory Crime: These are crimes where you committed an act that goes against a federal, state or local statute. Statutes are typically set up to deter crimes in areas like driving, the corporate world, or alcohol. Crimes in this area typically include driving under the influence, possession of drugs, all traffic violations, or financial and white collar crimes.
- Financial Crimes: Often, white collar crimes branch into the area of financial crimes. Financial crimes typically involve some sort of fraud or deception in order to steal someone else’s money. That someone else could be an individual or an organization. Charges under this area of law include things like embezzlement, money laundering, fraud and blackmail, tax evasion, and even cybercrime.
When you hire a criminal lawyer, it’s important to understand that not every criminal lawyer will be an expert in every one of these areas of criminal law.
Therefore, make sure to search lawyer directories that focus in on lawyers who specialize in the area of law that the charges you’re facing fall within.
Deciding You Need a Criminal Lawyer
Do you always need a criminal lawyer? Not really.
In many cases, the crimes you’re being accused of are what are called “misdemeanors”. This is a crime that’s considered “nonindictable”, meaning it’s not a felony, and so the sentence and fines will be far smaller than if you were facing felony charges.
Examples of this include things like a speeding ticket, parking violations, disturbing the peace, and so on.
If the maximum penalty your facing is only a few hundred dollars – far below what a lawyer’s minimum fee would even cost – it doesn’t always make sense to hire a lawyer.
However, if the crime you’re facing is considered “criminal” in any way, meaning it will become a permanent part of your criminal record, then hiring a lawyer may still be necessary.
Most people choose to just pay a fine for things like a traffic violation, because most of the time those won’t become a part of a criminal record. They’ll only hire a lawyer if the speeding infraction is high enough to be considered “criminal speeding”.
In that case, even though the fine is less than the cost of a lawyer, the lawyer fee is justified because it will help you avoid having a criminal record.
Choosing a Good Criminal Lawyer
Criminal lawyers will typically meet with you for a free initial consultation. This lets you explain your case, and it allows the lawyer to determine if the charges you face fall within their specialty area of criminal law.
It’s also an excellent opportunity for you to get a feel for the personality of the lawyer and how well you will work together.
- Does the lawyer seem overworked and may not have time to defend you well enough?
- Does the lawyer convey a sense that they are invested in your case and want to see you get a fair trial?
- Does the law firm have a solid record of successfully defending past clients in court?
All of these are things you want to consider when you are looking at hiring a criminal lawyer.
The most important thing is to get moving quickly the moment you’ve been charged with a crime. You’ll need a lawyer to respond to any requests the prosecutor has made, and to file motions to the court for you immediately.
Once you hire a lawyer, you can sit back and relax, and let the lawyer handle any and all paperwork and negotiations related to your case.