There is a myriad of reasons you should know about the nuances involved in hiring a criminal defense attorney—not least of all because you might need one one day! It’s easy to assume you’ll never be charged with a crime because you avoid doing anything wrong, right?
Unfortunately, that is not the way the legal system works. The police and prosecution may mistakenly take interest in you as a suspect, and, if that happens, you will want a good attorney on your side.
Here is my complete guide to hiring a criminal defense attorney for your criminal court case.
Attorney vs. Lawyer
Attorney and lawyer are not interchangeable terms. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you’re definitely looking to hire an experienced attorney. This will ensure the best outcome for your case. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t interact with lawyers along the way.
Lawyers are educated in law, but do not practice as legal representatives on other people’s behalfs. Lawyers can be future attorneys who have yet to pass the state bar exam.
Attorneys, on the other hand, are already lawyers. They are lawyers who passed the bar exam in their state and are licensed to practice law.
Civil vs. Criminal Trials
Civil trials litigate conflicts between private entities, be they organizations, other groups, or citizens. In many cases, they are referred to as “lawsuits” (but not always). In civil cases, the object is to establish whether or not the defendant owes the complainant, or plaintiff, compensation for damages.
Essentially, civil suits are a means of resolving disputes between citizens and other private entities. The defendant is either liable or not liable. Another major difference is the amount of evidence required to establish liability. There only need be a preponderance of evidence for a party to be found liable.
On the other hand, criminal trials require a proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendants are either found guilty or not guilty. Criminal trials are litigated between public entities, acting as the prosecution, and private citizens or other private organizations and companies. The state files charges in criminal trials, whereas civil suits are filed by citizens.
There are a wide variety of criminal charges which might be filed against a citizen.
Types of Criminal Charges
Robbery, theft, assault, and murder are all commonly known criminal charges. These are the extreme cases. There are other forms of crimes which you might be charged for, such as charges for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI).
“DWI is a misdemeanor for drivers over 21 with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. It carries steep punishments, fines, and even license suspension if found guilty. DUI, on the other hand, is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” explains David Hunter, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Bend county, Texas.
When to Hire an Attorney
It seems natural to want to please the police in any manner that you can when you’re facing criminal charges. You might be tempted, then, to avoid hiring a lawyer until you absolutely must. The common knowledge is that asking for a lawyer or remaining silent in the face of questioning makes the police perceive you as guilty.
This may or may not be true, but you have a right to legal representation, and you should exercise it as soon as possible. Therefore, do not wait until you are formally charged to enlist the services of an attorney! Call an attorney as soon as you begin to suspect you will be charged.
The sooner a legal representative can begin speaking on your behalf and negotiating your case with authorities, the better. You would be surprised at how often charges that would make for a sensational court case or even lukewarm plea deals can be avoided with the help of an experienced legal representative.
Public Defenders Come with a Catch
Only certain defendants qualify for the services of a free or low-cost public defender. You will be able to request a public defender after charges have been filed and you are standing in court. As discussed previously, you don’t want to wait until court proceedings begin to hire an attorney. By then, your best chances to nip the criminal charges in the bud entirely without so much as a plea deal may have already passed!
Because free public defenders can’t be requested until after criminal charges have been filed, you should try investing in a private lawyer if you can swing it. The upfront cost will be worth it in the long run to save your reputation, your livelihood, and your family from stressful court proceedings.
There are plenty of attorneys who will work pro-bono or at a lower fee. There are lawyer referral networks that can help you find such attorneys. If you’re tempted to take a chance on waiting for a public defender to represent you, consider what your freedom is worth and how much you can spare in the short-term to preserve it.