What do criminal defense lawyers do?
Criminal law is the law related to taking the freedom from a person in the United States, given to us by the US and State Constitutions, and federal and state legislation. Louisiana, like every state, sets its own definitions and punishments for state crimes. Each crime is listed in the criminal statutes – available here.
The average person will not have a sufficient understanding of criminal law or the criminal justice process. Unfortunately failing to understand criminal law is not a defense. This is where the criminal lawyer steps in and does his/her job.
Although an individual has the right to represent himself or herself during criminal trial proceedings, the consequences of self-representation representation can be very bad. At the least, you owe it to yourself to talk to a criminal defense lawyer and determine if you are in need of assistance.
A criminal defense lawyer will set up an initial interview to get the facts from you, as much as possible, and get a sense of the case against you or your loved one.
Retaining a lawyer can be done even before you are arrested, and merely under investigation, and this can be very beneficial in some instances. This includes talking to law enforcement, something that may be in your best interest, but should not be done under any circumstances without the advice of a lawyer who practices criminal defense regularly (*we will get back to this in the end).
If you have been arrested, or someone you love has been arrested, this is also “pre-trial”. The interview is the same, except that there is a better chance to have more information relative to the crime charged and the circumstances under which a particular individual was charged. Again, the purpose here is to get as much information as possible and begin to formulate a plan going forward – a plan to minimize the damage to the life of the person charged.
Investigation of the case
In addition to the interview of the person hiring a lawyer, there will be an investigation in some cases that starts immediately. Talking to potential witnesses, visiting the scene of an alleged crime, examining evidence, etc. All of this information is used to try to build a strong defense for the case.
This also includes any possible scientific evidence, again preferably with someone who knows how to handle and challenge this kind of evidence. This is very important – the criminal defense lawyer you hire should know how to meet the very difficult challenge of forensic science evidence.
Analysis of evidence
Defendnats, persons charged with crimes, have a right to see the evidence against them, and be provided with evidence that is in their favor by the State. It is very important to obtain this information, and to not make decisions that affect the life of a defendant prior to examination of the evidence in possession of the State.
Case theory – beginning the trial preparation
It is very important that the lawyer and defendant begin early to make a reasonable plan to defeat the State. This is built on a theory, or story, of a case that explains all the facts and includes innocence. This is not an easy task and requires the lawyer to know what they are doing in the criminal defense context. You must have someone with trial experience and the will to bring the fight on your behalf.
In Louisiana all felony charges are tried to a jury of either 6 or 12 who must unanimously agree on the outcome.
You criminal defense attorney must be able to clearly and plainly explain this process to you and must begin preparation for a trial from the first day you hire them. This is a complex subject, one for its own page. If you think there is a chance the matter will go to trial, then you must hire someone with experience and wins, period.
*Which brings us to our last point on criminal defense attorneys.
You must hire someone that knows the criminal justice system, a criminal defense lawyer, and has considerable experience navigating these dangerous waters. A criminal defense attorney should not handle your bankruptcy, and your divorce attorney should not handle you criminal defense matter – ever.
If you are charged with any serious misdemeanor or any felony at all, you must hire someone who knows what they are doing. This is not rocket science, but it does take considerable effort and knowledge, and your life and freedom should not be entrusted to someone that does not have experience defending people and fighting the State.