Abraham Lincoln famously said that “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.” This is never more true than in a criminal law case. No matter how seemingly minor the charges may be on paper, any criminal conviction can come with serious consequences. These can include:
- Jail/prison time
- Hefty fines
- Difficulty getting a job in the future
- Loss of educational, housing and career advancement opportunities
- Social stigma
- Loss of relationships (whether because of time spent away incarcerated or due to the conviction itself and the mental associations with it)
- Possible sex offender registration for some crimes
- Loss of driving privileges for some crimes
A vigorous defense is the best way to fight back against these serious consequences, both before a trial starts and throughout the entire process. No matter how intelligent, well-read and articulate you may be, chances are very, very good that you simply don’t have the wherewithal, knowledge and experience necessary to mount the best defense on your own behalf. That is why you need to hire a criminal defense attorney with the skill and ability to fight for you.
What you should look for in a criminal lawyer
When searching for an attorney, you don’t necessarily want the biggest, “baddest,” person you can find. You might instead want someone who, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “talks softly and carr[ies] a big stick.” You need someone who isn’t afraid to stand up for you, and who won’t back down in negotiations with the prosecutor or at trial when your best interests are at stake. Of course, you also need someone with in-depth knowledge of the local criminal system, the state and federal laws/statutes/regulations involved in the case and the possible results for you – both now and in the long-term – of different courses of action so that, working together, you can make a truly informed decision about how to proceed.
For example, should you take a plea deal where you plead guilty to a lesser charge and do less jail time in exchange for a quicker resolution to the case, even knowing the possible long-term impact of a conviction? Or, should you move forward since your defense attorney can prove that the prosecution’s case is based on illegally obtained evidence that will likely be quashed? Could you be eligible for sentencing alternatives like probation, home detention with electronic monitoring or inpatient substance abuse treatment that will keep you out of jail?
These are questions that are best answered by a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney with real-world experience in the local court system handling your case. If you have been arrested and are facing the possibility of criminal charges, you technically have the right to represent yourself, but this is definitely a situation where you shouldn’t try to “do it yourself.” Having an experienced criminal lawyer at your side to mount a vigorous defense will greatly increase your chances for a better outcome.