Criminal Defense Lawsuit

Individuals who have been accused of a crime may need to defend themselves in a criminal defense lawsuit. These lawsuits differ from civil lawsuits in that they are brought by the government and can result in jail time. Learn how a skilled criminal defense attorney can help you defend against charges in a criminal lawsuit.

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What Is a Criminal Defense Lawsuit?

There are two basic types of lawsuits:

  1. Civil lawsuits
  2. Criminal lawsuits

In civil litigation, the plaintiff (person or company bringing the lawsuit) alleges that the defendant failed to satisfy a legal obligation.

If someone is charged with a crime, this means that the government is filing a criminal lawsuit against them. In a criminal lawsuit, the defendant (the person accused of a crime) argues against claims that they broke the law. This is known as criminal defense.

Criminal Lawsuit vs Civil Lawsuit

The chart below shows some differences between these two types of lawsuits.

Criminal LawsuitCivil Lawsuit
Brought by the government (usually led by a District Attorney)Brought by a person, company, or the government
Can result in monetary penalties or jail timeUsually result in monetary damages or injunctions (orders to do or not do something)
Standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”Standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence”
Almost always decided in a trial by juryCan be settled outside of a trial or decided by a jury or judge
Defendant is entitled to an attorney free of charge (public defender)Defendant must pay for an attorney or represent themselves in court
Did you know?

The same act can result in a criminal and civil case because of the different standards of proof. A famous example is the O.J. Simpson trial. Simpson’s conduct resulted in a criminal lawsuit and a civil lawsuit.

Criminal Lawsuit Examples

Some common criminal lawsuit practice areas include:

  • Assault and battery
  • Domestic violence
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)/driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Drug crimes
  • Identity theft
  • Robbery
  • Sex crimes
  • White-collar crimes (fraud and embezzlement)

Potential Penalties in a Criminal Defense Lawsuit

Depending on the severity and type of criminal offense, criminal defendants face many different penalties.

These penalties include:

  • Jail: A defendant may be required to serve jail time while they wait for their trial.
  • Prison: If a defendant is found guilty, they may receive a prison sentence. The length of this sentence is based on the type and severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and other factors.
  • Fines: Defendants may be required to pay fines for certain violations of the law.
  • Compensatory service: Defendants may perform unpaid or service work instead of paying a fine.
  • Probation: This releases the defendant back into the community with restrictions on where they can go and what they can do.
  • Disqualification or forfeiture: Defendants may have to forfeit their driver’s license or another type of license for certain crimes. For example, if you are found guilty of driving under the influence (DUI) for the first time in Florida, your driver’s license will be suspended for 180 days up to a maximum of one year.

Evidence in a Criminal Defense Lawsuit

In criminal cases, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the burden of proof required to convict a person of a crime.

It requires the prosecution to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt and that no other reasonable explanation can be derived from the evidence presented at trial.

The prosecution may present the following types of evidence to meet the burden of proof:

  • Circumstantial evidence implies that a connection exists between the defendant and the crime. An example would be an eyewitness account saying that the defendant was near the crime scene on the day in question.
  • Expert witness testimony is given by individuals with extensive knowledge or experience in a specific discipline or field. Common expert witnesses include doctors, auditors, ballistic experts, accident reconstruction experts, and forensic crime lab investigators.
  • Forensic or scientific evidence introduces indisputable facts that are proven using scientific methods, such as fingerprints, DNA, ballistic reports, and fiber analysis.
  • Witness evidence is provided by a witness who answers questions from one or both lawyers under oath.

Witnesses may be required to answer questions asked by lawyers from both sides.

Did you know?

Direct examination is when a witness responds to questions posed by the attorney who presented them. Cross-examination is when the witness responds to questions from the opposing legal team.

What to Expect During a Criminal Defense Lawsuit

A criminal defense lawsuit involves many steps, from initial arraignment (appearing in court to hear charges) to case sentencing.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect.

1. Initial Arraignment

After a defendant is arrested and charged, they will be brought before a magistrate judge for an initial hearing. During the hearing, the defendant will learn about the charges against them and their rights. The judge will also decide whether the defendant will be released or held in jail until trial.

In many cases, the defendant can be released from jail before a trial if they meet the requirements for bail — money paid by the defendant to guarantee that they will show up in court.

The judge will evaluate various factors before deciding whether to grant bail.

These factors include:

  • The crime committed
  • The defendant’s criminal record
  • The defendant’s flight risk
  • Whether the defendant is considered a threat to society
  • Whether the defendant lives in the area or has family there

If the defendant cannot pay the bail bond, the judge may require the defendant to remain in jail until trial.

2. Preliminary Hearing

If the defendant pleads not guilty, a preliminary hearing may be held to decide whether there is enough evidence to determine that a crime has been committed and that the defendant may have been involved.

The preliminary hearing functions like a mini-trial. The prosecution will introduce evidence and call witnesses, and the defense will cross-examine witnesses. Unlike trials, though, the prosecution can present evidence that cannot be shown to a jury at trial.

3. Pretrial Conference

Also called a pre-trial review, a pretrial conference is a hearing where all parties attempt to agree on the laws, issues, and facts prior to trial. They are made to exclude or secure evidence, end the case, or change venue. The court may hold one or more pretrial conferences.

Types of pretrial motions include:

  • Motion to discover: This asks the judge to order the other side to share evidence.
  • Motion to dismiss: The defendant may file a motion to dismiss to get the judge to toss the case on the ground that there is insufficient evidence to prove they committed the crime.

4. Criminal Case Preparation

Next, the defendant and their criminal defense attorney will work on their criminal case. They will gather and analyze all of the prosecution’s evidence and make notes of any gaps, discrepancies, or mistakes.

The defendant will write down their version of the events, and their lawyer will speak to others who may testify as witnesses. The lawyer can prepare the witnesses by going over questions that the prosecution may ask them and organizing materials — such as sketches, pictures, outlines, and maps — for court.

5. Plea Hearing

A plea hearing is a court hearing in which a defendant responds to the prosecution’s charges against them.

The defendant must give one of the following responses:

  • Guilty
  • Not guilty
  • No contest (the defendant does not deny or accept responsibility for the charges but agrees to accept punishment)

When a plea hearing takes place depends on whether the defendant is in federal or state court.

6. Plea Bargain

If the defendant pleads guilty at the plea hearing, they may attempt to settle the case through a plea bargain.

Legal Definition: A plea bargain is an agreement by a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or the dismissal of certain related charges.

Many defendants accept plea bargains to avoid more serious charges and the uncertainty and hassle of a trial and serve lighter sentences.

If the defendant pleads guilty, there is no trial. Instead, they start preparing for a sentencing hearing.

7. Trial

If the defendant does not agree to a plea bargain, they will go to trial. Trials take place in a courtroom and allow for witnesses and evidence to be presented.

During the trial, the prosecution must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. After the prosecution is finished presenting evidence, the defense can introduce evidence and call witnesses.

Throughout the trial, the judge will make decisions on various issues, such as whether a question being asked of a witness is appropriate or whether a piece of evidence is admissible.

Did you know?

The parties may enter into a plea agreement any time before the verdict is delivered.

Once all evidence and testimonies are presented, each side will give closing arguments. The jury will then be asked to return a verdict of guilty or not guilty. Once the jury reaches an agreement, they will announce their verdict to the judge, defendant, and lawyers in open court.

8. Sentencing

After the defendant is found guilty, the judge will issue a sentence.

The judge will refer to sentencing guidelines and consider statements from the victims, lawyers, and the defendant to determine the sentence. They may consider easing the sentence if the defendant has expressed regret or does not have a record.

9. Case Appeal

A defendant who is found guilty can appeal the judgment if they believe the sentence was too harsh or that they were wrongfully convicted.

They can appeal by asking a higher court to review specific aspects of the case for legal errors. No new legal evidence may be considered by the appellate court (court of appeal).

Ways to Fight a Criminal Lawsuit

If you are a defendant in a criminal defense lawsuit, your attorney can fight the lawsuit by getting the case dismissed or arguing exclusion of evidence.

Getting the Case Dismissed

Your criminal law attorney may be able to get the case dismissed by filing a legal motion to dismiss the case.

Grounds to dismiss a case include:

  • An error in the preliminary hearing or grand jury proceeding
  • Lack of admissible evidence
  • Prosecutor errors when filing the complaint against the defendant
  • Prosecutor misconduct, such as destroying evidence

Arguing Exclusion of Evidence

Your attorney may also argue for the exclusion of evidence by filing a Motion to Exclude or Suppress Evidence. This motion asks the court to ignore or exclude one or more pieces of evidence for legal reasons. The prosecutor may find it impossible to prove the alleged crime if the court grants this motion.

The court may grant a Motion to Exclude or Suppress Evidence when:

  • Evidence was illegally obtained
  • Evidence was tainted or tampered with
  • Statements were illegally obtained

Defense Strategies in a Criminal Lawsuit

Your attorney will thoroughly analyze your case to get the best possible outcome. Here are some defense strategies an experienced criminal defense attorney might use.

Arguing That No Crime Took Place

The attorney may use evidence to argue that the alleged crime was never committed. For instance, evidence may show that you are facing theft charges over a computer that was never actually stolen.

Claiming Defendant Was Innocent

Your trial lawyer may also prove that you did not commit the crime. For instance, they can produce an alibi to show that you were in another state when the crime occurred.

Claiming Lack of Awareness of Criminal Actions

If you were not aware of the consequences of your actions, your trial lawyer can gather and present evidence to show that you lacked the knowledge or intent to commit the crime due to intoxication, mental incapacity, or duress (you were threatened into committing the crime).

Arguing Criminal Actions Were Justified

Another defense strategy that a criminal defense attorney may pursue is arguing that your actions were justified.

This defense is based on the concept that certain circumstances may justify or excuse an otherwise illegal act. Common justifications include defense of others, self-defense, consent, or necessity.

Factors That Affect Criminal Defense Lawsuits

Several factors can affect a criminal defense lawsuit and strategies, including the following:

  • Defendant’s account: The attorney will use the defendant’s version of the events as the basis of their criminal defense strategy.
  • Judge’s track record: The defense lawyer will analyze the judge’s track record and tailor their defense to align with the judge’s inclinations and tendencies.
  • Police reports: The defense attorney will review law enforcement reports to identify gaps and inconsistencies that can weaken the prosecution’s version of events.
  • Prosecutor’s tactics: The prosecutor’s way of presenting evidence, constructing evidence, and questioning witnesses can greatly influence the defense strategy and overall outcome.
  • Real or physical evidence: The defense lawyer may examine real or physical evidence presented by the prosecution, such as firearms or car parts.
  • Third-party and expert reports: The lawyer may hire third-party experts to uncover problems in the prosecution’s evidence or arguments.
  • Verifiable facts: The more verifiable facts the lawyer can find, the stronger the defendant’s case. Examples of provable facts include alibis, surveillance footage, and other evidence contradicting the prosecution’s case.

“I served as a juror in June 2023. The criminal defense lawyer was animated, energetic, and passionate. When we started deliberations, jurors commented on the attorney’s level of excellence and said they would want him to represent them if they were ever accused of a crime. The experience highlighted the importance of having a skilled litigator by your side if you are fighting for your freedom.”
– Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Juror

Attorney Roles in Criminal Defense Lawsuits

An experienced criminal defense attorney provides several advantages for people facing criminal charges.

Here’s how a criminal defense lawyer can help:

  • As a legal advisor: A criminal defense attorney should establish a solid attorney-client relationship with you. They can provide legal advice, explain legal issues, and prepare you for trial.
  • As a protector of rights: Your attorney is committed to protecting your constitutional rights, such as the right to legal counsel, the right to remain silent, and the right to a fair trial.
  • As a case assessor and investigator: Your attorney will conduct a meticulous evaluation of the case, analyzing the witness statements, evidence, police reports, and other relevant information. This allows them to spot potential defenses, seek the suppression of illegally obtained evidence, and challenge the credibility of witnesses.
  • As a trial attorney: If your case proceeds to a criminal trial, your defense attorney will present compelling arguments, cross-examine witnesses, and challenge the prosecution’s arguments.
  • As emotional support: A criminal defense lawyer doesn’t just fight for your rights — they can also alleviate anxiety by explaining potential consequences and keeping you informed and involved in their defense strategy.

Facing a criminal lawsuit can be terrifying for defendants and their loved ones. Not only can it lead to steep fines, but it can also lead to imprisonment and loss of future job opportunities.

As such, it’s important for defendants to have an experienced criminal lawyer by their side to fight for their rights.

Criminal Lawsuit FAQs

What is the main difference between criminal versus civil lawsuits?

Criminal lawsuits happen when someone commits a crime and the government pursues punishment on the public’s behalf. In contrast, civil lawsuits occur when a private party like an individual or company sues another private party to resolve a dispute.

How much will a criminal defense lawsuit cost?

Most criminal defense lawyers charge between $100 to $400 per hour. However, the cost of a criminal defense lawsuit depends on several factors, such as the criminal charge (felony or misdemeanor) and the complexity of the case.

Most reputable criminal defense law firms provide free consultations so you can see if the firm is a fit for your case.

Defendants who can’t afford the services of a criminal defense attorney or law office are entitled to legal representation by a public defender at no cost.

How to file a criminal lawsuit?

In most cases, a criminal lawsuit is filed by the government. However, in several states, people who believe that they have been the victim of a crime can file criminal charges against another party if the government declines to do so.

Can you win a criminal lawsuit without hiring a lawyer?

Yes, while it is technically possible to win a criminal lawsuit by yourself, self-representation is incredibly risky. The U.S. criminal justice system is complex and requires years of experience to navigate.

Unless you’re dealing with traffic tickets or another minor offense, it’s in your best interest to obtain legal services from an experienced attorney.

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