What is a Criminal Law Attorney?

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  • Written By: Jim B.
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2018
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Whenever someone is charged with a crime, a criminal law attorney could play a large part in helping to determine the fate of the accused. Criminal law attorneys typically are equipped through education and experience to deal with both simple and serious cases. Simple crimes, also called misdemeanors, include traffic violations and petty theft. Attorneys also might deal with more serious violations, known as felony charges, which include grand theft, rape, vehicular manslaughter, homicide, and first-degree murder. Requirements to become a criminal law attorney generally include three years of post-graduate study, passage of the bar exam, and experience in the field.

It takes at least seven years of school to become a criminal law attorney. After four years of undergraduate school, which usually results in a bachelor's degree, attorney candidates must then attend an accredited law school to learn the specifics of the profession. The final step in becoming an attorney of any type is being accepted to the state bar, which requires passing a written examination.


If a person chooses criminal law as her preferred field once the bar is passed, she then chooses which side of the courtroom she wants to represent. Defense attorneys work on behalf of those accused of the crime, while prosecutors are hired by the state to try to prove the guilt of the accused. In the case of defense attorneys, they can be broken down into two further groups: private lawyers, who work for a firm, and public defenders, who work for the state and argue cases on behalf of clients who cannot pay for a private attorney.

In criminal cases, an accused person is deemed guilty only if jurors believe he committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. A criminal law attorney working on behalf of the accused will therefore use whatever means at her disposal to raise this doubt, while a prosecuting attorney will try to provide evidence to remove it. Cases are sometimes decided in court, but more often they are resolved using plea bargaining, in which the two opposing attorneys will decide on an outcome to the case that is agreeable to both the defense and the prosecution.

The responsibilities of a criminal law attorney range far beyond arguing a case in court. Attorneys must gather as much information as possible about their case, often relying on investigators to secure that information. Defense attorneys also must advise their clients on all possible plea agreements or sentencing options, as well as file appeals if the case warrants it.



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