What is a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

If you’ve ever found yourself on the wrong side of the law – and in handcuffs – chances are you needed to hire a criminal defense lawyer. A criminal defense lawyer is basically what it sounds like – a lawyer that defends someone who is being charged with a criminal offense. These offenses can range from drug possession to burglary to something as serious as murder. According to SuperScholar.com, the main job of a criminal defense lawyer is to present their client’s case in front of a judge and/or jury of their peers and do what they can to have their client found not guilty of their charges or have the least amount of consequences placed upon them. The lawyer does this by presenting evidence of their client’s innocence.

Criminal defense lawyers can either be found in private practice, as part of a law firm, or are hired directly by certain jurisdictions in criminal courts. In fact, another term for criminal defense lawyers are public defenders, which are normally assigned to those charged with a crime that cannot afford to pay for a lawyer on their own.

Throughout the years, there’s been some history-making cases surrounding criminal law. A major milestone in the history of criminal defense lawyers in the United States can be found with one of the first women lawyers in the US, Clara Folt, who according to the book Inventing the Public Defender by Barbara Allen Babcock is credited with being the first person to propose the idea of a public defender and in 1893 was the first person to propose the idea of states providing an attorney to criminal defendants regardless if they could afford it or not. Then in 1963, according to the PBS series “The Sup
And another milestone case in criminal defense history includes the case Miranda vs. Arizona, which in 1966 resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that prior to police questioning criminal suspects must be told about their right to a lawyer and against self-incrimination.reme Court,” through the case Gideon vs. Wainwright the Supreme Court ruled that the US Constitution required states to provide all criminal defendants with public defenders whether or not they could afford them.

Education & Specialization

Criminal defense lawyers go through the same education and training as any type of attorney. According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, formal education for lawyers includes a four-year college degree, three years of law school, and then passing a written bar examination. Additionally, each state in the United States may have their own specifications based on that state’s Bar Association. For example, in order to practice law in the Lone Star State, the State Bar of Texas says a candidate must have graduated from an American Bar Association-approved law school with a Doctor of Jurisprudence and the must take and pas the bar exam. Additionally, the moral character of law school applicants and bar exam candidates are screened by the Texas Board of Law Examiners.

Criminal Defense Lawyer

How to Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Now knowing all this, how should you approach finding an attorney? That will really depend on first of all if you can afford to hire your own lawyer or if you are eligible to have a public defender provided for you.

If you are going to hire your own criminal defense attorney, there are many ways to find an attorney in your area – open up the Yellowpages, Google for criminal defense attorneys in your area, or look for ads in your local newspaper. The State Bar of California suggests getting recommendations for potential lawyers from friends, relatives, and co-workers. Local libraries can be a source of lawyers in your area through their law directories, such as the California Legal Directory or Martindale-Hubbell that provides brief biographies of lawyers in the area. Another way to find a lawyer is by using a referral service. For instance, the State Bar of California offers the State Bar Lawyer Referral & Information Service (LRIS), which helps match defendants with potential lawyers based on area and legal need. Additionally, many states have nonprofit agencies that can help you find low-cost legal aid. 

Once you’ve accumulated a list of possible lawyers, take the time to call them to ask some questions to find out if they will be able to meet your needs. The State Bar of Texas suggests asking the following questions:

  • Do they have experience trying your type of case?
  • Do they charge for an initial consultation, and if so how much?
  • What type of fees will the lawyer charge and do they offer a written agreement for the fees?

Now that you’ve narrowed down the list, make a first consultation meeting with the criminal defense lawyer that fits your needs the best. Make sure to be prepared for your meeting by having the following with you:

  • Written summary/notes describing your situation
  • Names and contact information of everyone involved
  • All documents that have something to do with your case, including any documents you may have received from the court or another lawyer

The State Bar of Texas suggests you also be prepared with more questions, such as:

  • How experienced/specialized are they with your particular situation?
  • Will the lawyer be personally handling the case, or will it be passed on to an associate?
  • How updated will you be kept on the progress of your case?
  • Will you be able to make the final decision on your case?

After the conclusion of the first session with your potential lawyer, the State Bar of California suggests some things to consider when making your final decision on who to hire:

  • How effectively can you communicate with the lawyer?
  • Are the fees reasonable for what services the criminal defense lawyer will be offering?
  • Was the attorney clear on how they will be giving up updates on your case as it progresses?

All in all, when making that final decision if for any reason you are not satisfied with the criminal defense lawyer you have selected, do not hire them. But if you are satisfied, always make sure to read the contract carefully and fully understand it before signing on the dotted line.

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