You were charged with a crime and you need a defense attorney. How do you know who to choose and whether that person will be any good?
Let's take it one step at a time and start with consultation. An initial meeting can reveal a lot.
Consulting With Counsel
If you are in the market for a private criminal defense attorney, meet with a few lawyers and get a feeling for who they are, how they speak, and how they treat clients. Attorneys can have very different styles, all of which succeed.
But the most important thing you need from a lawyer is someone who hears you and who you would want arguing on your behalf. Does the lawyer ask you questions? Do you feel comfortable answering? Does this attorney seem intelligent and articulate, and capable of explaining process to you?
Once you have hired a lawyer or one has been appointed to you, your defense attorney should be making moves to protect your constitutional rights. What does that mean?
Your lawyer reviews the case and the evidence the prosecutor plans to presents, ensuring it was obtained via a legal process. Was there probable cause for your arrest? Did police speak to you after you asked for an attorney? Your lawyer will challenge evidence that was obtained in violation of the law with motions to suppress the evidence and exclude it from prosecution. The attorney also investigates any possible leads and subpoenas any parties who can shed light on the case.
Your lawyer should talk to you about your right to a speedy trial and to be tried before a jury and whether you wish to waive these, explaining advantages and disadvantages of either. And a good defense attorney will always explain to you the risks of trials as opposed to plea bargains. Ultimately the decision must be yours.
Perhaps most importantly, a good criminal defense attorney will remind you of your right to remain silent, repeatedly. You should not be speaking to anyone about your case besides your lawyer and you should be able to speak to your attorney with some regularity.
In the Mix
Although it can be disconcerting to defendants to watch their lawyers chatting with a prosecutor in a professional or even friendly fashion, that is actually their job. Some lawyers like to say they will fight for you when what they really mean is that they like to fight.
A good lawyer will understand the art of negotiation and will take advantage of a cordial professional relationship with the opposition to negotiate a deal if that is what you seek. Even if you do not want to plea bargain, your lawyer still has to work with the prosecutor throughout the process and it will work out better for you, if the lawyer is able to do that.
Your defense attorney should not make innocence a condition of representation. Whether or not you are guilty, you are entitled to a zealous defense and the best attorneys work on that principle. They do not require clients to be innocent, but see their role as minimizing negative consequences for all defendants.