Criminal Defense Lawyer

A criminal defense lawyer defends people and companies that have been charged with a crime, representing them in court and other legal settings. Ultimately, criminal defense lawyers try to get any criminal charges and related penalties dropped or lessened. Learn more about the types of cases they handle, the fees they charge, and why you should consider working with one. Icon

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What Is a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

A criminal defense lawyer specializes in criminal defense, a law practice area that focuses on the defense of people and companies facing criminal charges (known as defendants).

A criminal defense lawyer can work alongside other lawyers at a law firm or alone at a firm where they are the only practitioner.

Some criminal defense attorneys are public defenders, or court-appointed lawyers, who represent people who don’t have the means to hire a lawyer.

The best criminal defense attorney is a skilled litigator who you trust to fight for your freedom and reputation.

Types of Cases Criminal Defense Lawyers Accept

Criminal defense attorneys handle a broad range of cases, including:

  • Assault and battery
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug crimes, such as distribution of a controlled substance
  • Drunk driving or driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Larceny (theft)
  • Sexual assault and other sex crimes
  • Weapons crimes
  • White-collar crimes (fraud and money laundering)

What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?

A criminal defense lawyer is involved in every step of a criminal case. They ensure your constitutional rights are protected and provide support during this trying process.

Here’s a breakdown of what will happen after you hire a lawyer to help with your criminal case.

1. Review the Criminal Defense Case

The criminal defense lawyer will review the evidence and the charges filed against you and interview you about what happened. They will work to establish a strong attorney-client relationship, and it’s important to be as honest as possible. This will give them a better understanding of your case so they can offer you a strong defense. During this stage of the process your lawyer will provide legal advice and explain any potential outcomes.

2. Gather Evidence

Your criminal defense attorney will gather evidence to help your case. They may hire a private investigator or an independent lab to test evidence.

3. Prepare for Court

Your lawyer will then prepare the best defense plan for court.

To do this, they will:

  • Conduct legal research
  • Create persuasive arguments to support your position
  • Identify applicable defenses, laws, and precedents
  • Prepare legal documents to present in court

Your attorney may propose a plea bargain after preparing a strong case for court.

Did you know?

Plea bargains are agreements between defendants and prosecutors where defendants agree to plead guilty to some or all of the charges against them in exchange for certain adjustments from the prosecution such as reduced punishments and charges.

4. Defend You During a Trial

If you proceed to trial, the prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the prosecution must convince the jury that it is impossible to draw any other reasonable explanation from the evidence presented at trial.

Your lawyer will use their knowledge of criminal law and courtroom procedures to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s case.

They will show that other reasonable explanations exist by:

  • Challenging witness credibility
  • Exposing errors during the investigation process
  • Showing that you had an alibi (evidence showing that you were somewhere else when the criminal act is alleged to have taken place)

How Much Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost?

In the United States, criminal defense lawyers typically charge a rate of $100 to $400 per hour.

Rates vary widely according to factors, including:

  • Complexity of the case: Lawyers tend to charge higher fees for more complicated cases, especially those involving a violent crime or a serious felony.
  • Experience of the criminal defense lawyer: The more years of experience the lawyer has, their rate is generally higher. Lawyers who have previously worked as district attorneys may also charge higher rates.
  • How much time the case will take: Longer cases are often more expensive.
  • Seriousness of the criminal charge: Serious criminal charges, such as murder or rape, may require higher defense fees.
  • Whether the lawyer is recognized as a specialist in an area of law: Lawyers who are recognized as specialists in a specific area of law usually have higher fees than non-specialists.

Hiring a criminal defense lawyer can be a substantial investment. However, the benefits of working with a skilled criminal lawyer usually outweigh the financial considerations.

A trusted criminal defense attorney’s expertise, knowledge, and ability to navigate the criminal justice system can significantly affect your case’s outcome and safeguard your rights and future.

Private Criminal Attorneys vs Court-Appointed Attorneys

You can hire two types of criminal defense lawyers: private criminal attorneys and court-appointed attorneys.

Private Criminal Attorneys

Private criminal attorneys operate as solo practitioners or work for criminal defense law firms. They are privately hired by clients and not assigned by the court system.

When hiring private criminal lawyers, you have full freedom to choose an attorney who fits your needs.

Private criminal lawyers usually have more resources than court-appointed lawyers. Additionally, they are more likely to offer personalized attention as they generally have fewer cases than court-appointed attorneys.

On the flip side, private criminal lawyers can be expensive. They also have limited availability, especially if they are in high demand or have a large caseload.

Court-Appointed Lawyers

Court-appointed lawyers provide legal counsel for people who can’t afford private legal representation. Also known as public defenders, court-appointed criminal defense lawyers are employed by or under contract with federal, state, or county governments.

The main advantage of working with a court-appointed lawyer is that they are free.

Drawbacks of court-appointed lawyers include limited or no attorney choice and meager resources.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

A criminal defense attorney can provide many benefits for people facing legal issues. They can draw on their extensive experience to give you important legal advice.

Your lawyer can explain:

  • The best plea bargain for your case: Your lawyer will negotiate with the prosecution to secure the best plea bargain for your case if you plead guilty.
  • The penalties of your charges: Your lawyer will discuss the potential penalties associated with your charges. Depending on the type of your charge (misdemeanor or felony charge) and whether you have a criminal record, you may face fines, probation, imprisonment, community service, or a mix of the above.
  • What defenses you might have against the charges: Your trial lawyer will meticulously review the circumstances and evidence surrounding your case to spot potential defenses.
  • What your charges are: Your lawyer will carefully analyze your case and explain the charges against you, including the nature of the offenses, the potential consequences, and what the prosecution needs to prove for each charge.
  • Whether you can win your case at trial: If you want to go to trial, your attorney will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case and advise you on the chance of success.
  • Why you shouldn’t talk to the police: A trusted defense attorney will advise you not to speak to law enforcement without a lawyer present. They know that anything you say may be used as probable cause for an arrest.

When to Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one have been arrested or are facing criminal charges, it’s in your best interest to hire a criminal defense lawyer immediately.

Your lawyer will tell you how to interact with law enforcement, what you should and shouldn’t say, perform legal research, negotiate a plea bargain, and, if needed, fight for you at trial.

An experienced criminal defense attorney’s aggressive representation and knowledge of the justice system can lead to a not guilty verdict, charge reductions, and dismissals.

Defense Criminal Lawyer FAQs

Do you need a lawyer for all criminal charges?

No, you don’t need a lawyer for all criminal charges, especially minor ones like a parking ticket or driver’s license suspension, but a lawyer can help you walk away with no penalty or a lesser one. Don’t risk your job, liberty, reputation, or family by trying to defend your own case.

Can a criminal defense lawyer improve your chances of winning?

Yes, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can improve your chances of winning your case. They have the knowledge and ability to guide you through the legal system, propose a plea bargain, reduce jail time and other penalties, and fight for your rights at trial.

Can you switch criminal defense lawyers during your trial?

Yes, if your lawyer is not meeting your needs, you can change criminal defense lawyers during your trial. You can do this by filing a motion with the court to substitute counsel.

What is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer?

A white-collar criminal defense lawyer defends people and companies accused of white-collar crimes like bribery, embezzlement, and fraud.

How do I find a criminal defense lawyer near me?

To find a criminal defense lawyer near you, ask family and friends for recommendations. You can also search the internet for lawyers in your area. Look for reviews on social media sites to locate top-rated criminal defense attorneys in your area.

State and local bar associations and legal aid organizations can direct you to professionals who provide pro bono (free) legal services. Icon

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  1. Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Criminal law.” Retrieved May 16, 2023, from
  2. Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Driving under the influence (DUI).” Retrieved May 16, 2023, from
  3. Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” Retrieved May 16, 2023, from
  4. Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Plea bargain.” Retrieved May 16, 2023, from
  5. United States Courts. “Criminal Cases.” Retrieved May 16, 2023, from
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