Do I even need a lawyer if I just want to plead guilty?
Of course you have the right to represent yourself. However, being convicted of a crime can have serious consequences that may burden you, and your family, for years and may have significant financial costs. Additionally, you should consider that, although you may have made a mistake or done something wrong, that does not necessarily mean that you would be found guilty. Given everything that’s at stake in your case, if you’re accused of a crime, you should seek representation before you make any decisions about your case.
What should I expect at the first meeting with my criminal defense attorney?
At your first meeting you should expect to:
- Discuss the circumstances of your arrest: What happened? Who was there? What did the police do? What did the police say? What did you do? What did you say?
- Share everything with your attorney that you know about the situation leading up to and surrounding your arrest and the charges against you. Withholding information from your lawyer or telling them things that aren’t true can damage your defense or come back to blind-side your lawyer in court later. Your attorney is a professional and is not there to judge you. Your attorney is also legally responsible for maintaining the secrecy of your discussions, so there is no point in holding anything back.
- Discuss your concerns, including how a conviction or imprisonment could affect you or your family and what your exposure is.
- Discuss the cost of representation, payment plans, etc.
How will a criminal defense attorney help me?
The criminal justice system is vast, complex, and powerful. An experienced criminal defense attorney understands the system, knows the written (and unwritten) rules, and speaks the language of judges and prosecutors. Knowledge of these things help to level the playing field. An experienced criminal defense attorney will:
- Investigate the charge against you. Your criminal defense attorney can take witness statements, visit the scene of an incident, obtain and review reports and other documents and examine physical evidence. Unlike police investigators, the attorney’s investigation will look for facts that expose holes in the government’s theory of the case and will explore gaps in proof, inconsistencies and other things that would give rise to reasonable doubt.
- Evaluate the officer’s conduct to determine whether police conduct during your arrest or any other relevant time violated your constitutional rights. If so, your criminal defense attorney can file a motion seeking to have any illegally obtained evidence suppressed.
- Stand between you and the government. The laws and procedures that govern your criminal case are complicated. Without formal education and training in the law, it is impossible for you to know all of your rights or when those rights are violated. Your attorney will help you assert those rights to protect you.
- Develop a theory of your defense. Maybe you acted to defend yourself or someone else. Maybe you have an alibi. An “eyewitness” may be unreliable or untrustworthy. Depending on the facts of your case, your criminal defense attorney can help you present a unified and understandable theory of the case—a theory in which you aren’t guilty.
- Represent you at trial. Your attorney will work to select a jury and present your defense to the jury in a way that makes sense to jurors. Your attorney will be able to effectively cross-examine the government’s witnesses and will help your witnesses get your story out.
- Help you make decisions about your case. Every criminal defendant will be forced to make big decisions in their case. A knowledgable criminal defense attorney can counsel you, based on their experience, to help make many strategic decisions as your case winds its way through the criminal court system.
- Communicate with your family. Your family will be worried about you. Your criminal defense attorney can serve as an intermediary between you and your family, helping to ease their anxiety.
I can’t afford a lawyer. What should I do?
In most criminal cases punishable by imprisonment, the United States Constitution gives the accused the right to effective assistance of counsel. If the court finds that you really can’t afford a lawyer, the court will appoint the local public defender to represent you at low or no cost to you. The right to a lawyer exists at all critical stages of the criminal proceedings. “Critical stages” include lineups, custodial interviews and interrogations, arraignments, preliminary hearings, pretrial motions, and all phases of a jury trial.