Criminal Law 101

Finding a criminal law attorney.

Hopefully, you’ll never need this article.

But if you ever require the assistance of a criminal attorney, start by browsing our listings of criminal law attorneys and apply the tips below to find the lawyer that fits your needs.

What does a criminal law attorney do?

A big player in many of today's dramas (both real and fictional), criminal lawyers specifically handle cases where the government (state, local or federal) seeks to punish someone for an act that has been classified as a crime.

If you are charged, you will need to hire a criminal attorney to represent you before the courts.

The process

If you are formally accused of a crime, the process usually begins when police officers begin the charging process with an arrest or citation summarizing what led up to your arrest. They send copies of their reports to a prosecutor's office run by government lawyers, who initiate and prosecute criminal cases (which they can do with or without the victim's approval).

Prosecutors look at all the circumstances of your case, including the suspect's past criminal record. They then decide if there is enough evidence to begin a court proceeding.

What to ask

Even the most remote possibility of going to jail is a good enough reason for most people to want a skilled lawyer. You should be looking for someone who is familiar with the laws involved with your particular crime, be it anything from drug possession, assault or DUI.

Here are some questions to consider when choosing an attorney:

  • What is their experience in this field? How many similar cases have they tried?

  • What are the possible outcomes of your case?

  • Are there alternatives methods to resolve the matter?

  • Approximately how long will it take to reach a resolution? 

  • Is mediation or arbitration an option? 

  • What are their rates and how often will you be billed?

  • What is an estimate for the total bill, including fees and expenses?

  • How will you be informed of progress?

  • What kind of approach will they take to resolve the matter - aggressive or will you be more inclined to reach a reasonable settlement?

Note that criminal lawyers do not come cheap. You may be able to find an attorney that will work pro bono depending on your type of case. The Constitution provides all criminal defendants with the right to an attorney if the state is trying to deprive the defendant of his or her liberty. This means that if you can't foot the bill for a private attorney, the court must appoint a lawyer to represent you.

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