The Constitution of the United States protects your rights, even if you’ve been accused of a crime. The Sixth Amendment allows for anyone accused of a crime to secure an attorney to represent them in court.
From the time you are arrested, you have the right to hire an attorney – but when should you actually bring one on board? Here’s what you need to know about hiring a criminal defense attorney and when it might be time.
Hiring an Attorney
If you are facing criminal charges, then it’s imperative to hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you.
Don’t forget that many crimes have steep penalties that can result in jail time for years. You do not want to take the chance of not understanding the charges you face and what you’re up against at any step of the criminal court process.
Generally speaking, the steps involved in the criminal courts are:
- Pre-trial conference
Each step carries its own set of processes, and an attorney has varying legal duties depending upon where you are in your case. Learn more about each below.
This is the part of the process when the charges against you are read in court and you plead guilty or not guilty. An attorney can recommend to you how to plead based on the facts surrounding your case as well as represent you in court at the hearing.
Attorneys also work at this stage to help make an appeal for a bond or ask the court to release you without a bond on your own recognizance.
If you declare yourself guilty, plead no contest, or agree to a plea bargain, then sentencing is scheduled immediately. If you declare you are not guilty, then your pre-trial conference next.
For those who have elected for a trial, a pre-trial conference is held first. Leading up to your pre-trial your attorney works hard to gather evidence and develop a strong argument.
Typically evidence presented at pre-trial will either exonerate you completely or possibly lead to a plea deal which is often an effort to get your charges reduced.
At the conference, your attorney may be able to reach the desired plea bargain deal with the prosecution. Or, if that does not occur, then a judge or jury trial is scheduled.
Judge or Jury Trial
Much of the evidence compiled for pre-trial will also be carried on to the actual trial, but there is additional time for your legal team to continue developing the proper defense when you’re headed to a full judge or jury trial.
When your case actually makes it to the courtroom, an attorney is the one who presents your defense. In court, they will speak on your behalf and call witnesses. They also cross-examine witnesses brought forward by the prosecution, something that takes expertise.
If you are found guilty, then an attorney can still help to ensure you get a fair, if not minimal, sentence for your crime.
They may even be able to persuade the judge that an alternative to incarceration or probation is the best option, depending on what type of crime you’ve been found guilty of.
It is especially helpful to have an attorney with experience in sentencing for the type of crime you have been accused of.
What To Look for In an Attorney
It’s in your best interest to hire a criminal defense attorney as early in the process as you can. When you decide to bring one on your team, you must ensure:
- They have expertise in the legal areas you need representation in – you don’t want a civil attorney working for you if you’ve been charged with a criminal felony such as burglary
- They are local to your area, which means they have experience working with the judicial system and in the courthouse, your case is working out of
- They seem like an attorney you could trust to build your case and you should be able to openly talk to them about anything concerning the case.
An attorney is always going to be able to help you in court. So, make sure to explore your options as soon as you can.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.