What Cases Do Criminal Defense Attorneys Deal With?
There are many kinds of law—so many that no lawyer can competently work in every kind. Instead, lawyers choose a specialty for practice. A firm, like ours, may specialize in multiple kinds of law, but a single lawyer will usually stick with one.
Criminal defense lawyers deal with defending individuals against criminal cases where someone is charged with a felony or misdemeanor. To do this, they must perform many kinds of tasks for their clients. But even if an attorney does criminal defense, they may not be the right lawyer for you.
Understanding Your Right to an Attorney
All citizens of the United States have the right to an attorney granted to them by the 6th amendment. This is an important right. When you’re charged with a crime, it’s you against the state and they hold all the cards.
A criminal defense lawyer is your shield against the accusations of the state. In this country, we operate under the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The state would not bring charges unless they think they have that proof. The job of the defense attorney is to poke holes in their claims.
Types of Criminal Cases in Virginia
There are two broad ways to define a criminal case. One is between misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are minor crimes, while felonies are major ones and come with extra punishments if you’re convicted.
Each state can choose which crimes are felonies and misdemeanors and if they’ll have subclasses. In Virginia, there are four classes of misdemeanors and six classes of felonies, as well as numerous “penalty enhancements” that add things like minimum sentencing and sentence extensions.
The second division is between blue-collar and white-collar crime. This is a fuzzy definition, but white-collar crimes are usually non-violent and involve fraud. Blue-collar crimes usually have an element of violence, but not always. Some crimes, like DUI or drug offenses, don’t fit cleanly into either.
This division is important when choosing a criminal defense attorney. Different attorneys may specialize in certain kinds of crime defense. White-collar crime defense often requires knowledge of accounting and business laws, so you’ll want a lawyer that knows these well.
Experience Matters When Choosing a Lawyer
With so many kinds of charges available for prosecutors in Virginia, not every criminal defense attorney will have experience with all of them. One question you should ask any attorney is if they have experience in your kind of case.
The more complex and heavy your crime is, the more important this becomes. You don’t want to trust yourself to someone new to your kind of charges if you can help it. Usually, in bigger firms, more junior attorneys will work with more experienced ones on these kinds of charges to get experience.
Interviewing a Criminal Defense Attorney
Not every criminal defense attorney can deal with your case, so it’s important to interview your lawyer before hiring them. Besides asking them if they have experience in defending against your charges, other questions to ask include:
- Do you have any conflicts of interest in defending me?
- Have you ever been accused of professional misconduct?
- Will you handle my case, or will another lawyer in your firm? If not, how qualified is the other lawyer?
- What sentencing alternatives are there under Virginia law for my charges?
- How can I best help myself in this situation?
- How much do you charge?
The last question is especially important because criminal defense lawyers may charge different rates for your kind of case. Some lawyers do a per-hour or a flat fee. Others may also charge a retainer. Going to trial may also affect the price.
What Will a Criminal Defense Attorney Do for Me?
A criminal defense attorney, whether hired or assigned to you by the court, has certain responsibilities toward their clients. It’s more than just making a persuasive argument in court in front of a judge. They also:
- Interview you about the facts of the case
- Investigate avenues of possible acquittal, including interviewing police and witnesses
- Review the prosecution’s case for flaws
- Analyze evidence for things that could disprove the prosecution
- Help select jury members
- Participate in plea negotiations
- Advise you on how your case is going and how you should act to increase your chances of winning
- Negotiating with the state for a lower punishment if you’re convicted
If you didn’t have a lawyer, you’d have to work on these yourself and navigate the ins and outs of the court system with no guidance. Your chances of success would be extremely small. Even lawyers get other lawyers to represent them if they’re charged!