There are countless “myths” regarding criminal defense lawyers that run the gamut. Many people who’ve never dealt with a criminal attorney view them as somewhat shady (after all, who would represent a criminal?) or as individuals who are in it to make a fortune. Speaking of making money, why not just use a public defender instead of paying big bucks to a private criminal defense lawyer? There are many myths about criminal lawyers we’re going to attempt to de-bunk below.
All criminal defense attorneys are created equal
Wrong! Criminal defense lawyers can differ vastly in terms of their backgrounds, results they have achieved for clients, extent of education, experience, even their specialties or “practice areas.” Suppose you’ve been arrested for sexual assault, and the defense attorney you speak to works primarily with traffic or DUI cases and has never (or rarely) represented someone charged with sexual assault. Would you want him/her defending you? Not likely.
Public defenders are just as good as private criminal defense attorneys
Public defenders are appointed by the court, and are government employees whose pay is typically far below that of a private criminal defense attorney. While this fact may seem reason enough to go with a public defender, most are extremely overworked, often handling hundreds of cases at a time. What does this mean for the client? He or she will not generally get the one-on-one attention and counsel necessary to build a solid defense. In fact, you may be lucky to meet with a public defender just prior to entering a plea. You have no choice in who is appointed to you, your public defender won’t have significant time to investigate the charges against you and obtain helpful evidence or information that could make a difference in the outcome.
Ultimately, a private attorney has a far more manageable caseload and can spend critical “face time” with the client. You will have greater access to your lawyer, whether in his/her office or over the phone. Criminal lawyers who work in the private sector also have substantial resources at their disposal including expert witnesses, investigators, associate attorneys, and more. It’s really a matter of having an attorney who can place intense focus on your case and therefore obtain better results, having charges dismissed or reduced.
More expensive is better
While hiring a lawyer who quotes extremely low fees may not be in the client’s best interest (it could indicate a lack of experience), the fact that a firm is the most expensive you’ve come across doesn’t necessarily mean the attorneys at that firm are any more qualified to provide you with an effective, aggressive defense. In some cases, criminal defense attorneys with extensive experience, good case results, or high-profile (or wealthy) clients charge extravagant fees just because they can.
Not to say you should choose a dirt cheap attorney, or one that charges an exorbitant fee. Most defense attorneys are happy to explain how their fees work, and what, if anything may cost extra. Because an attorney is expensive does not guarantee better results – no defense lawyer can guarantee results.
All lawyers are just in it for the money
Just as with any profession, some people do go into criminal law for the money. That said, most go into the field to protect the innocent and ensure justice is served. Unfortunately, society today often views those charged with a crime as guilty although there is supposed to be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Mistakes are made (and more often than you think) in the criminal justice process, and thousands upon thousands of innocent people sit behind bars today.
An individual accused of a crime is up against the vast and virtually unlimited resources of our government. Those accused of crimes must have someone in their corner, someone to stand up for them – it is simply a fundamental principle of the freedoms we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.
You only see criminal attorneys in the courtroom
It may seem like it if you watch a lot of court dramas on television, but criminal attorneys are extremely busy behind the scenes. Defense lawyers gather and examine evidence, interview witnesses, search for evidence that can be of benefit to the client (exculpatory evidence), review police reports, test results, photographs, and other documents, and most importantly work vigorously to mount an effective defense against the prosecution. Successfully representing a client takes an enormous amount of work and effort outside the courtroom, something many people don’t realize.
All criminal lawyers are shady/sleazy
This opinion is often due to the picture painted of criminal defense lawyers by Hollywood and such notorious cases as the O.J. Simpson trial. The majority of defense attorneys do not resort to bad practices in order to win a client’s case, and realize that because they are defense lawyers does not make them “above the law.” Criminal lawyers want to help their clients obtain justice, and ensure their constitutional rights are not violated. It’s important to remember that not every person facing criminal charges is guilty; in fact, many are not.
Criminal defense attorneys who were prosecutors are better
Criminal defense attorneys who were once prosecutors love to tout their former status as though somehow it makes them a better defense lawyer. Not so. This is a marketing tactic used by many former prosecutors to somehow make potential clients believe they have some “inside track” to obtaining better results.