The law is a diverse field with multiple specialties based on specific kinds of cases. And a criminal attorney is just one of the options available. But what exactly does a criminal lawyer do? The answer is both simple and complex, depending on your perspective.
A criminal attorney also referred to as a criminal defense lawyer or public defender, is a lawyer that focuses on the defense of individuals and organizations that have been charged with a particular crime. Criminal attorneys focus on understanding the law regarding specific kinds of criminal charges and work to assert the defendant’s innocence or ensure that only appropriate charges are brought forward. They can also work with the prosecution to reach a deal, referred to as a plea bargain, should the defendant wish to plead guilty and/or avoid a court case.
Like other legal specialties, criminal lawyers must obtain a law degree and successfully pass the Bar exam in the state where they intend to practice. Additionally, board certifications are available but are not required. Once they accept a case, they research the available information, interview witnesses, research case law and applicable statutes, laws, and regulations, and then create a defense strategy. They also speak on behalf of the defendant during the trial, serving as their advocate. Criminal attorneys can also draft and file appeals.
The Working Environment
Criminal lawyers may work in a variety of environments. Most commonly, they work as part of a private practice or operate a solo firm. In some cases, defense attorneys work for non-profit organizations and even government agencies. Aside from maintaining office hours, they also meet defendants at courthouses, hospitals, and even prisons to help solidify their case.
It isn’t uncommon for criminal lawyers to begin their careers on the other side, working for the prosecutor’s office. Some start out on the defense side, but work for non-profits or provide services as a public defender. However, it is not required to begin your career in such a fashion, but it can help you build the skills and reputation necessary to successfully transition into criminal defense.
Criminal Law Specialties
While criminal law is a specialty in its own right, there are subspecialties within the field. Some attorneys focus on defending specific kinds of criminal charges, such as domestic violence, sex crimes, violent crimes, drug offenses, thefts, and fraud. Others practice more generally, though may functionally end up specializing if their reputation in a particular area grows strong.
Criminal attorneys may defend people who were wrongly accused as well as those who may be guilty. The opposite can happen when serving as a prosecutor. Regardless of the defendant’s guilt or innocence, it is important that a criminal lawyer always does their best work for their client. The right to a competent attorney is a critical part of the overall legal process, and this requires that each attorney takes their responsibilities seriously.
Additionally, the attorney and client are able to operate with “attorney-client privilege.” This allows the client to speak freely with their attorney without the attorney being required to disclose any of the information regardless of how it pertains to the client’s guilt or innocence.
However, it is also the attorney’s job to advise their clients on the best course of action. If a client is guilty, it may be wise to arrange a plea bargain instead of going to trial and risking a guilty verdict. Even if that is the case, it is ultimately the criminal lawyer’s job to adhere to the wishes of their clients. That means, should the client insist on entering a not guilty plea and moving forward with a trial, then the attorney must act accordingly.