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Do I need a Criminal Defense Attorney?

Posted by on in Criminal Defense
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I get asked this question fairly often and it is hard to answer. I don’t want to be seen as trying to “sell” my professional services to people or to scare people into hiring me or another attorney, but I also don’t want to tell someone they should represent themselves, knowing that it could be a terribly bad decision.

So with that in mind, if :

  • The potential criminal penalty is minor enough not to be of great concern to you and you understand all of the potential “side effects” of the conviction you are risking, like driver license loss, probation, parole, restitution, loss of the right to possess a firearm; drug, alcohol and mental health evaluations and treatment, etc.;
  • You don't get overly nervous speaking in public, like a courtroom;
  • You are able to read, understand, and respond promptly to all papers you get from the prosecution and the court and to understand what you are required to do and how to do it;
  • Your case is relatively simple, and;
  • You have no plan to go to trial for any reason whatsoever OR you know how to effectively present evidence and arguments and make objections, and;
  • You are comfortable negotiating with the prosecutor and speaking to the judge and/or jury…;

then representing yourself might work out okay. This is especially true for minor traffic infractions and minor petty offenses like park curfew tickets, leash law violations, littering, etc. But when you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, it is hard to conceive of a good reason for anyone to represent themselves in court. I can tell you this; any time a police officer, judge or lawyer is charged with a crime, the first thing they do is hire an attorney. If those people know they should not represent themselves, then why on earth should you?

The truth is, no matter how smart or well educated you may be, the criminal justice system makes it virtually impossible to do a competent job of representing yourself. Each criminal case is unique, and only a lawyer who is experienced in assessing the particulars of a case, in dealing with the many variables that come up in every case and in looking at cases objectively and professionally, can provide the type of representation that every criminal defendant needs to receive if justice is to be done.

You Can't Find Everything You Need on the Internet or at the Library

Law schools don’t just teach the law. In fact they do relatively little of that. What they focus on is training lawyers in critical thinking, legal analysis, persuasive writing and speaking, effective legal research and legal concepts that guide lawmaking and judicial decision-making. Even after four years of college and three years of law school and after passing the state bar exam and having the grades, communication skills and talent to get hired as an attorney, new lawyers get additional training specific to their area of practice, specific the courts in which they will be working and the types of cases they will be handling. Few new lawyers work without close supervision for the first several months or more and often are not allowed to appear in court for quite a while without a more senior attorney there as well. And even with that, many lawyers are uncomfortable in a courtroom environment.

What Can an Attorney Do for Me?

Well, sometimes not much, and sometimes quite a lot. The problem is that there is no way to know what can be done and should be done without actually working on the case.

Criminal defense lawyers do much more than simply make arguments and question witnesses in a trial. For example, defense lawyers:

  • Negotiate “deals” with prosecutors, often arranging for reduced charges and lesser sentences.
  • Formulate sentencing programs tailored to a client’s specific needs, often helping defendants avoid future brushes with the criminal justice system.
  • Help defendants cope with the feelings of fear, embarrassment, reduced self-esteem, and anxiety that criminal charges tend to produce in many people.
  • Provide defendants with a reality check—a knowledgeable, objective perspective on their situation and what is likely to happen should their cases go to trial. This perspective is vital for defendants trying to decide whether to accept a prosecutor’s offered plea bargain.
  • Are familiar with important legal rules that people representing themselves would find almost impossible to locate on their own, because many criminal law rules are hidden away in court interpretations of federal and state statutes and constitutions. For example, understanding what may constitute an unreasonable search and seizure often requires familiarity with a vast array of state and federal appellate court opinions.
  • Are familiar with local court customs and procedures that are not written down anywhere.
  • Understand the possible hidden costs of pleading guilty that a self-repre­sented person might never think about.
  • Spend time on a case that a defendant cannot afford to spend. Defendants who can afford to hire a lawyer usually have jobs, and therefore lack the time (and energy) to devote to such time-consuming activities as gathering and examining documents, doing legal research, and talking to witnesses.

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303-708-1842

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