Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Criminal Defense Lawyers: A Timeline of a Case Assignment


Consideration was given for the editing and publication of this post.

Depending on where you stand, a criminal defense attorney can either be society’s hero or its own worst enemy. Alleged murderers, minor offenders, arsonists--these lawyers stand by their accused to defend their constitutional rights and make sure that they are given due process in court. All this is done despite bystanders’ opinion of their client’s guilt.

At the get-go, this may sound like a job that is not for the weak of heart – and you are correct to posit this. The main goal of a criminal defense attorney is to rally for a fair trial for their clients, but let’s shift the focus on them in this article. Here’s a general process of how they do their job in the USA--from case assignment to the final sentencing.

First step: Case assignment


A criminal defense lawyer can either be hired by their defendants or appointed by the court. In most cases, a criminal defense attorney gets contacted directly by their defendant to represent them in court.

However, other lawyers who work for the public defender’s office get assigned by their local or federal courts.

Second step: Interview with the client


Once a working relationship has been established, the defense lawyer then gathers all the facts about the case. He/she will interview the client, asking as many specific questions as they can. Once they are satisfied with the facts that they have gathered, only then will they work on a possible defense based on the merits of the case. This is a comprehensive and exhaustive step for both the defender and the defendant.

Third step: Case investigation


By this time, the defense lawyer should have gathered enough know-how about the case. Still, this isn’t enough, and he/she must conduct their own queries, investigating every possible avenue in the case. This includes going to the police for clarifications, interviewing witnesses, etc. All of this is done to make sure that they build a solid case to acquit their client.

Fourth step: Review legal theories that apply to the case


Once all the information has been gathered, a defense attorney then takes stock of all the legal theories that possibly apply in the case. He/she will review the laws that apply and other previous rulings that held in court.

Fifth step: Assistance in jury selection


Essentially, jurors should not have biases or cause for impartiality towards the case--and a criminal defense attorney has to make sure of this. They will carefully de-select jurors who they think might not give their clients a fair trial. All this is done through a combination of due diligence and a strong gut feeling on the lawyer’s part.

Sixth step: Making plea deals


A plea bargain is when a lawyer tries to come up with a favorable deal for both parties involved in the case. This should, in most cases, result in the reduction of the charge or lesser jail time for their client.

Seventh step: Trial


Now comes the part we often see on TV: the trial. Contrary to what the networks would have you believe, there is rarely any court drama involved here. It is mainly a calm presentation of facts and proof from both parties.

Eighth step: Sentencing of the crime


A lawyer, whether or not his/her original plea bargain has been accepted, will likely discuss all possible avenues for acquittal and terms of incarceration. Their goal is to make sure that their client and everyone involved have considered all possible alternatives for the sentencing.

These are the eight steps that most criminal defense lawyers go through once they take on a client. Of course, in the duration of these steps, they should keep in constant communication with their clients to update them on any developments in the case.


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