If you are charged with a crime, your first question might be whether you need an attorney to represent you.
Your options include the following:
- Representing yourself
- Getting a public defender (If you qualify), or
- Hiring a private attorney
A criminal violation carries the potential for:
- A substantial fine
- Loss of certain rights which can include possession of a firearm or drivers license.
A conviction becomes public record accessible to the following:
- Background check companies
Many people build their own houses, repair their own cars or sell or buy their own homes.
But they would never consider performing surgery on themselves for obvious reasons. Representing yourself in a criminal court is akin to performing surgery on yourself.
Representing yourself should never be considered because a mistake at any stage of your criminal proceeding can be costly and difficult to rectify, if at all.
Are There Other Reasons Representing Yourself Is A Bad Idea?
- The prosecutor will not take you seriously when negotiating a plea bargain.
- The prosecutor has no incentive to reduce the charge
- The prosecutor is unlikely to listen to legal arguments from someone that is not a lawyer
Why Won’t The Prosecutor Reduce The Charge?
Ask yourself is the prosecutor going to be scared to lose a trial to someone off the street?
The answer is no, and so they will not have any incentive to negotiate a better plea bargain for the defendant in a case.
What If I Don’t Want A Plea Bargain And Go Straight To Trial?
A criminal proceeding can be complex with rules of court, procedure and evidence that must be followed.
What Are The Most Common Mistakes Representing Yourself In Trial?
Defendants can make mistakes at any time in a case but the following are more commonly made by defendants representing themselves in a trial.
- Not obtaining all pretrial discovery and/or not understanding how to use it.
- Not knowing when motions are appropriate and how to structure them.
- How to properly cross-exam witnesses
- How to properly Introduce evidence
- How to and when to provide experts
- How your demeanor affects the jury
- How to select jurors
Additionally, Judges may give you some leeway on courtroom decorum but not when it comes to the rules that all lawyers must follow.
If you can show that your financial resources or assets are below a certain level, then the court must appoint an attorney to represent you.
Are You Able To Get A Public Defender Anywhere In California?
All California counties have public defender offices or lawyers who are appointed by the court to represent defendants at no charge to them.
How Do You Get A Public Defender?
When someone is arrested and appears at the arraignment, the court asks if they have legal counsel or can afford one.
If not, the defendant has to complete a statement attesting to income debts and assets.
You can be employed and still qualify for representation.
If you do qualify, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you from arraignment to disposition, including trial.
What Is The Upside Of A Public Defender?
They can be very experienced and many have tried dozens or even hundreds of trials in the court where you are appearing.
They have access to investigators and researchers who can assist them so that you can be adequately defended
They are affordable for those with no or low incomes.
What Is The Downside Of Having A Public Defender?
Many public defenders are excellent and hard-working attorneys who are respected by the prosecutors and judges with whom they work daily.
However, there are a handful of drawbacks to a public defender for those that can afford private counsel.
- The public defender often has 200+ “clients” or cases on their books at any one time.
- The public defender can rarely take the time to speak with clients about what’s happening in their case or return emails.
- The public defender may be aggressively seeking a trial to move up in the branch since you need a specific amount of trial experience.
- You don’t get to pick your public defender or change because you don’t like them.
A private criminal defense attorney can offer a few things which you may not be able to get in a public defender.
- You can choose an attorney that you trust.
- You can choose an attorney with the experience in your particular case
- You can have access to your attorney via office meetings, phone calls, and email.
- Your private attorney will likely have a caseload that is much smaller and therefore can focus on your case with greater detail.
Are There Other Benefits When Hiring An Attorney?
Having a criminal attorney who is intimately familiar with the facts and circumstances of your case, your background, nature of the offense and the court where your case is venued is vital to knowing what you are facing, what defenses are available to you and the steps to obtain a satisfactory resolution.
Can My Attorney Get Creative With Resolutions In My Case?
In some cases, your attorney can present alternative sentencing options for which you qualify wherein your charges can be dismissed so that you will not have a criminal record if you successfully complete all court-ordered conditions.
In matters where you are accused of a sex crime, a conviction or plea can lead to your registering as a sex offender for life. If you are an immigrant, you face possible deportation if you plead to an offense without fully understanding the consequences. In many of these cases, these consequences can be avoided by a competent and skilled attorney.
As indicated above, pre-trial discovery and preparation are key in most cases.
Will My Attorney Conduct Their Own Investigation?
Your attorney or a trained investigator can visit the crime scene, examine the evidence against you and interview prosecution witnesses.
It is not unusual for a savvy investigator to obtain a witness statement where the person’s recollection of events is not so clear and reasonable doubt established.
Also, the courts have deadlines for presenting motions regarding the introduction or exclusion or certain evidence that must also be presented in a certain form.
Finally, a prosecutor will take your case more seriously if you have a seasoned and established criminal defense attorney representing you. You have more opportunity for a reasonable disposition of your case, including dismissal, a plea to a lesser charge, an alternative sentence or one where jail or prison time is suspended.