Here's the dilemma: you don't want to face your criminal charges alone, but good criminal defense attorneys don't come cheap. If you lack experience dealing with the criminal justice system, you don't have enough information to begin evaluating whether an attorney is worth your money. Such decisions are highly personal, but here is some information on what a criminal defense attorney can do for you. Hopefully, it will help you make a better-informed decision in a difficult situation.
They can protect your rights
The average person has a very limited understanding of what the police are allowed to do to make an arrest. A good defense attorney does not. The instant you have a contact with law enforcement that you think might be detrimental to your interests, hire a criminal defense lawyer. They will slow everything down and take the pressure off you by preventing you from doing or saying anything that might be harmful to your cause, and making sure law enforcement does not overstep their bounds.
They can fight for a dismissal
A good criminal defense lawyer will thoroughly examine all aspects of a case before negotiating with a prosecutor. They will look at both the facts of the matter and the procedures used by law enforcement. It is rare to see a dismissal based on the facts alone; the police say something happened a certain way and prosecutors are inclined to agree with them. The real value of a good criminal defense lawyer lies in their ability to look closely at all the actions law enforcement took before, during and after an arrest to find where they made mistakes. The more experienced a lawyer is, the more likely they are to know how and where to find the errors that can lead to a dismissal.
They have a relationship with the prosecutors
Very few criminal cases end with a trial. A 2018 study of the federal system found that 8% of cases are dismissed, 2% go to trial and the other 90% are resolved with a plea negotiation. A similar study from 2016 in Nashville, TN found that out of almost 25,000 cases only 83 reached the trial stage. In other words, almost all criminal cases are resolved through a negotiation between a defense attorney and a prosecutor (keeping in mind that a dismissal is often the result of a defense attorney convincing a prosecutor that a case is not worth pursuing). Knowing this, a good defense attorney will cultivate an understanding with the various prosecutors they work with. They will strike a delicate balance, letting them know that they will fight with determination and skill if their clients are not treated fairly, but will convince their clients to accept deals that are presented in good faith.
They know what a good outcome is
Most people have no idea what the punishment is for most crimes. They can look up the statute and see, for instance, that their class C misdemeanor carries up to 15 days in jail and a $700 fine and feel relieved when they accept a conviction that keeps them out of jail. An experienced criminal lawyer, however, might know that a little negotiation could have resulted in a lesser charge or maybe even an outcome that would have kept their clients' record clean.
They can conduct a trial
You can't. Simply put, unless you are a trained trial attorney, you do not have the skill set to handle a trial. Think about someone with no training trying to do your job. Is that the level of competence you want when your freedom is on the line?
They can save you time
Whether you have a simple traffic ticket or a serious felony, hiring a criminal defense attorney is going to save you from wasting a lot of time. For many lesser charges, you can hire a lawyer and forget about it. They will take care of everything and contact you when it is resolved. For more serious charges, especially felonies, it is hard to overstate the amount of aggravation and wasted time you will experience trying to represent yourself. The criminal justice system is just not set up for people to be their own lawyers for serious charges and you will feel that every step of the way. Additionally, and obviously, a criminal defense lawyer can save you from the worst waste of time, jail or prison.
They can save you money
This may seem counterintuitive but think long term. It is impossible to anticipate all the various ways a criminal record can affect your life, but it can certainly affect your employment, housing and ability to get credit to name a few. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer may be an unwanted expense, but having a serious criminal record will ultimately prove to be more expensive. Another thing to keep in mind is, as you can see here, public defenders are not free. They may cost less than a private attorney, but they are mandated by law to charge those who they represent.
They can give you peace of mind
Facing criminal charges can be scary and navigating the criminal justice system alone can be confusing and intimidating. You need a competent and caring professional by your side. You need to know that you are giving yourself every opportunity to minimize the negative impact these charges can make on your life. The only way you can do that is by hiring a capable criminal defense attorney.