What Does a Defense Attorney Do?

A criminal defense attorney is an attorney who defends people who have been accused of committing a crime. The attorney’s duty is to examine the facts, investigate the case against their clients, and attempt to negotiate agreements with their opponents (prosecutors). Reduced bail, fewer charges, and reduced sentences are all possible as a result of these arrangements. Because of various reasons—including political and public pressure, crowded prisons, and overbooked calendars—deal-making has grown in significance and has become an essential component in bringing the criminal justice system to a halt. 

Both private and court-appointed attorneys work in this field. The accused individual or their family may employ a private lawyer. A judge may assign court-appointed attorneys to cases. It is the duty of both attorneys, whether they are private or court-appointed, to give the greatest possible defense for their clients. 

Defense attorneys not only defend clients but also conduct investigations, assist in the drafting of a plea bargain, analyze the prosecutor’s case, assess the possible sentences (and likelihood of a particular judge giving such a sentence), examine search and seizure procedures, question witnesses, and gather evidence. Defense counsel may also advise their clients on potential immigration consequences or other ramifications of a guilty plea, conviction, or criminal record. 

Private criminal defense attorneys operate on an hourly basis (expect to pay $150 an hour or more) and offer a set price. They are not permitted to take contingency fees, which are payments made based on the outcome of the case. If the defendant cannot afford private counsel, the court may choose a government-funded public defender or panel attorney as a substitute. 

Some individuals—but not many—have enough money to pay for a lawyer without having to worry about finances. However, for those who fall between these categories of people, arranging for legal assistance isn’t always as simple. 

The bottom line for judges is that when a defendant faces a jail or prison sentence, the right to free (government-funded) defense counsel generally takes effect. If there is no chance of incarceration—for example, if the judge makes a statement on the record that she will not send the defendant to jail—the accused may not be entitled to free counsel (depending on state law). 

If you’ve been accused of a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. They can aid you in understanding the accusations against you and constructing an effective defense.