At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Criminal defense is the strategic argument and legal representation provided to individuals who have been accused of committing a crime. Defense attorneys work to protect their clients' rights and ensure a fair trial by challenging the evidence presented by the prosecution, offering alternative narratives, and advocating for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. According to the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, every defendant has the right to legal counsel, a cornerstone of the American justice system.
In practice, criminal defense can involve negotiating plea bargains, preparing for trial, and presenting mitigating factors to reduce potential sentences. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that about 90% of defendants plead guilty rather than go to trial, often as a result of such negotiations. A robust defense is crucial, as the consequences of a criminal conviction can be severe, including fines, imprisonment, and long-term impacts on employment and civil rights.
If you ever find yourself under arrest, you will soon learn the importance of a competent criminal defense. The process was designed to protect citizens’ rights and ensure that people accused of crimes are treated fairly. The process is also meant to ensure that those who are innocent are not wrongly convicted and punished.
A good criminal defense attorney will tell you to exercise your right to remain silent. He or she will then accompany you during questioning by the police to assist you in deciding which questions to answer and how you should respond to avoid incriminating yourself. Since anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, your response is very important. If you say something that can be construed as an admission of guilt, your criminal defense lawyer will have a far more difficult time proving your innocence.
Criminal defense involves more than simply helping you deal with law enforcement. It also involves reviewing the evidence the prosecution has against the accused, conducting further investigation, and interviewing or deposing witnesses. While the burden of proving guilt rests with the prosecutor, the judge may decide to hear the entire case. If so, a defense will be presented to prove innocence or at least to create reasonable doubt. The presentation of the case in court and the cross examination of witnesses are also very important.
Criminal defense also includes preserving arguments for appeal if necessary and finding ways to ease the sentence in case of conviction. A sentence may be reduced if there are mitigating circumstances, or a criminal defense attorney may be able to persuade the judge to be lenient for a first time offender. The result may be a fine or probation, or both, instead of incarceration.
In the U.S., every accused person has a right to a competent, timely, and thorough criminal defense. Those who cannot afford a criminal defense attorney will be provided one. Such attorneys are referred to as public defenders. They are paid by the state to represent the accused.