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What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do? Criminal Law

What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?

9 months ago by Justin M. Schiks
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If you have been accused of a crime, you will need a criminal defense lawyer. A criminal defense lawyer may be hired by a defendant or may be appointed by the court.
No matter how counsel is obtained, a criminal defense lawyer will handle your case from start to finish. This will include conducting a thorough investigation and handling the legal process on your behalf.

If you have been charged with a crime, JS Defense, PA, is here to represent your interests.

Conducting an Investigation

When you hire a criminal defense lawyer, he or she will conduct an investigation of your case. The attorney will gather as much evidence as possible to determine what legal options make the most sense in your situation.

A criminal defense attorney will likely want a copy of the police report. This will help your attorney determine how to best collect evidence. If your attorney consults an expert witness, this person may be called to testify regarding the evidence being used against you.

Different expert witnesses may be called upon depending on their area of expertise. For example, if the prosecution is relying on fingerprint evidence to build their case against you, an expert witness may be able to disprove the reliability of the fingerprint evidence.

Helping You Understand Legal Procedures

Nobody wants to have their case dismissed due to missing a critical deadline. A criminal defense attorney will be well-acquainted with local court rules and will know which court forms need to be submitted and when they are due.

When taking on your case, a criminal defense lawyer will research previous court decisions that have similar fact patterns as your case. This will help the attorney determine the likely outcome of your case.

Negotiating a Plea Bargain

In criminal cases, a defense attorney will try to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor. A plea bargain is an agreement between a prosecutor and the defendant in which the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge or to have one or more charges dropped. A plea bargain may allow you to get a more lenient sentence.
If your attorney feels that you should take a plea bargain instead of taking your case to trial, you should listen.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 95% of cases are resolved through a plea bargain. If a defendant pleads guilty in a plea bargain, he or she eliminates the uncertainty of the case outcome. Taking a plea bargain also reduces clogging in an already overburdened judicial system.

Should I Have a Jury or Bench Trial?

If your defense attorney is not able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor, your case will be taken to trial. According to the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 26.01, the defendant only has the right to a jury trial if the offense that he or she is being charged with has a potential prison sentence.

Even so, the defendant has the right to “waive a jury” and choose a bench trial (the judge alone presides over your case). If the defendant has a bench trial, the judge must come to a verdict within seven days after the trial is completed.

Your attorney should explain to you both options and the pros and cons of each. At this point in your case, your attorney will have developed a legal strategy or approach to arguing your case in court. With this approach, your attorney will likely have determined if you will have a better outcome presenting your case in front of a judge or twelve of your peers.

Preparing Your Case for Trial

If your case does proceed to trial, your attorney will present evidence and make compelling arguments to have a judge or jury find in your favor.

Possible Defenses

Based on the circumstances behind your charge, a criminal defense lawyer may find some loopholes in the prosecution’s case in the form of an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is a set of facts that would lessen or completely negate the charges against you.
Common examples of affirmative defenses are:


Unlawfully threatening or coercing someone with the intention of getting them to do something.
Duress is illegal, but the defendant must prove that a reasonable person in the same position would have still carried out the act.


Self-defense is the protection of oneself or one’s property against injury by another. It is justified when the defender believes that he or she is in imminent danger and has no other means to protect themselves.
Self-defense is not an excuse to use excessive force or to continue an attack when the threat of danger is removed.


A common legal defense in which law enforcement lures someone into committing a crime in order to charge the person with the offense. This could happen when the police hire informants.

Entrapment focuses on the defendant’s intent. If the offender’s intent to commit the crime lies with law enforcement, then entrapment can be used as a defense. Entrapment is a complete defense, meaning that, if proven, the case outcome will be in the defendant’s favor.


To “kick off” the pre-trial phase, both sides will exchange the information that they plan to present at trial. This is known as the discovery process.

Unlike legal dramas in which you may see the defense call a surprise witness, “trial by ambush” does not happen in actual trials. Both sides need to know what evidence will be presented to adequately prepare their cases.

Discovery is open to non-privileged information. Although there are different methods of discovery, depositions can provide key information about your case and are often highly utilized. In a deposition, a person provides out-of-court testimony under oath.

Based on Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 21.06, a witness’s deposition testimony can be used as evidence at trial if it is inconsistent with the witness’s statement in court.

What to Expect at Trial

Since the prosecution has the task of establishing your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the State will present its case first.

There is often confusion over what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means, but it essentially boils down to this: based on all the evidence presented, a judge or jury would have to conclude that the defendant committed the offense. There is no other reasonable explanation, and a judge or jury is almost entirely certain that the defendant is guilty.

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof, reserved for only criminal trials. Since the stakes are so high in a criminal trial (you could serve jail time!), the court wants to be sure that you committed the alleged crime.

When a criminal defense lawyer prepares for trial, he or she will explain to you the legal process. You will have the option of testifying, but you are not required to do so as this would violate your Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination.

However, a jury does like to hear from the defendant, so if you choose to testify, your attorney will prepare you on what to say. If you do testify, your attorney will ask you a series of questions (direct examination), and the prosecutor will ask you a follow-up series of questions (cross-examination).

In a criminal trial, both parties have the right to question every single witness. Generally, new issues cannot be raised upon cross-examination if the matter was not brought up during the direct examination of the witness.

Appealing a Court Decision

In the event you are found guilty, you have the right to appeal your conviction. A criminal defense attorney will be well-acquainted with appellate rules and procedures. Your attorney will also know if you have the right to appeal.

If your case does qualify for appeal, you must explain to the court why the court decision should be reversed. Your conviction may be repealed if your attorney can show that the trial court judge made an “error of law.” This could be due to a judge or jury not following a statute or case law that applies to the facts in your case when making their decision.

Should You Hire Private Counsel or Use a Public Defender?

As a criminal defendant, you have the option of hiring a private attorney or using a public defender (an attorney appointed by the court).

There are many benefits of hiring private counsel. A private attorney will have fewer clients than a public defender. Because of this, a private attorney will have more time to focus on your case.

A private attorney will have more resources than a public defender, most likely including a legal team to aid in trial preparation. A private criminal defense lawyer will likely work closely with a forensics expert and other expert witnesses to determine the validity of evidence.

Although a private attorney will be more expensive than a public defender, you can rest assured that your case will be given the necessary time and resources.

A Devoted Woodbury Criminal Defense Lawyer

When you hire JS Defense, you are hiring an attorney with a proven track record. A criminal defense lawyer does so much behind the scenes that a lot of work may be overlooked.

When you work with us, you are working with an attorney who takes a personal interest in your case. Contact a Woodbury criminal defense lawyer today to schedule your free consultation.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Justin M. Schiks who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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