- Criminal defense lawyer
A criminal defense lawyer is a lawyer specializing in the defense of individuals and companies charged with criminal conduct. Criminal defense lawyers can be permanently employed by the various jurisdictions with criminal courts. Such lawyers are often called public defenders. For a much more extensive discussion of criminal defense, see public defender. The terminology is imprecise because each jurisdiction may have different practices with various levels of input from state and federal law or consent decrees. Other jurisdictions use a rotating system of appointments with judges appointing a private practice attorney or firm for each case.
In the United States, criminal defense lawyers deal with the issues surrounding an arrest, a criminal investigation, and criminal charges of the present or the past. It's important to note that an arrest simply means there is reasonable suspicion a person committed a crime. An arrest does not necessarily mean that a criminal charge has been formally stated by the court. Criminal defense lawyers also deal with the substantive issues of the crimes with which his or her clients are charged. Criminal defense lawyers may also stop charges from ever being filed. This is done when someone knows he or she is being investigated or is arrested. The person suspect hires a criminal defense lawyer to perform his or her own investigation and when evidenced presented to the court or prosecutor negates the investigation or charge that is about to be filed the charges do not get filed by the prosecutor.
In the United States criminal defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence until prosecutors prove each essential element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Serious crimes (e.g. felonies) in the United States are tried to juries of twelve people and the jury must be unanimous in its verdict to either convict or acquit the defendant. A split in the jury is often called a "hung jury" and may result in a retrial of the defendant. Criminal defense lawyers actively pursue their client's cause through all stages of a criminal prosecution.
Criminal defense lawyers in the United States who are employed by governmental entities such as counties, state governments, and the federal government are often referred to as public defenders or court appointed attorneys. These are often fresh law school graduates seeking to gain quick courtroom experience.
It is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to advocate for their client. Rather than formulating an opinion of guilt or innocence, a criminal defense lawyer must instead determine if the laws were followed in conjunction with their client's charge. A considerable aspect of this work requires the criminal defense lawyer to have a clear understanding of the United States Constitution. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful searches and seizures while the Fifth Amendment governs the right to remain silent so one does not become "a witness against himself." All of the Amendments to the United States Constitution are guaranteed to the criminal accused via the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, a criminal defense lawyer must understand each of these rights. Initial work on any criminal case involves review of the charges and the police reports that led to them with a watchful eye toward a Constitutional violation. Early stages of a criminal case usually require a preliminary hearing or grand jury process to determine if there exists probable cause for the case to continue. A violation of the Fourth or Fifth Amendment could result in evidence being inadmissible at trial. Accordingly, a criminal defense lawyer often spends a considerable amount of time reviewing all documentation to determine if the case can be won on Constitutional Grounds.
Should there not be Constitutional violations, much of the work of a criminal defense attorney then turns to negotiation. Often a criminal defense lawyer works to arrange a deal or plea bargain that permits their client to admit guilt to a lesser offense or that results in an agreed upon sentence should the accused plead guilty.
The name in British English is defence counsel, or criminal defence counsel.
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