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Find Out When It’s Time to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney

The right to a criminal defense attorney is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all U.S. citizens. In this article, CMLAW discusses when to hire a criminal defense lawyer.

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees all American citizens that have been charged with a crime “shall enjoy the right … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” While most people are aware of the right to a legal defense, many do not understand when it is appropriate to seek counsel or what they should be looking for in a criminal defense attorney. 

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in the state of North Carolina, it’s important to know when you should seek out a criminal defense lawyer. Our team understands how difficult it can be to navigate the legal process alone, which is why we put together this guide to help you better understand your criminal defense options. 

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Table of Contents

When to hire a criminal defense attorney
  • What a lawyer can do to help before being charged
  • What a criminal defense attorney does after you are charged with a crime
  • Types of common criminal defense cases
What to look for in a criminal defense lawyer, including:
  • Experience with the charged crime
  • Attorneys local to you

When Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer? 

The criminal justice system is incredibly complex, which is why it takes years of intense study and specialized examination for lawyers to become certified to serve in each state. Navigating these choppy legal waters alone can be incredibly risky, which is why fewer than 1% of defendants choose to represent themselves. With years of jail time, steep fines, and reputational damage on the line, it’s best to seek out legal counsel as quickly as possible. 

Whether you’ve been formally charged or suspect you may be soon, a criminal defense attorney can assist you through the entire process so you can achieve the best outcome. 

What a Lawyer Can Help with Before Being Charged

If there’s any chance that a criminal case may be filed against you, it’s important to retain an attorney before the charges are formally made. You don’t want to get stuck scrambling to research “criminal defense lawyers near me” after being charged when you could have acted sooner to secure counsel. Besides, there is plenty that a criminal defense attorney can do to help before charges are brought against you, including: 

  • Avoiding Aggressive Charges: During a pre-filing investigation, your criminal defense attorney can take action on your behalf to proactively prevent police from “over-filing” a case. This helps keep the court system honest, even before a criminal case is filed. 
  • Contact Law Enforcement: It’s perfectly normal for police to speak with suspects prior to charging them with a crime, using whatever is said during the conversation to strengthen their case. With a criminal defense attorney by your side, they’ll be able to gauge police’s interest in seeing you prosecuted and ensure all evidence obtained is done legally. 
  • Monitor the Case: The police aren’t obligated to keep you abreast of any investigations that may be open against you. By having a criminal defense attorney, you’ll be able to keep your finger on the pulse of the police investigation so you always know what to expect. 
  • Start an Investigation: Known as a pre-arrest investigation, your criminal defense lawyer can conduct an independent investigation prior to your arrest to gather evidence that would help in your defense. This might involve obtaining specific documents or hiring a third-party private investigator. 

What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do After Being Charged? 

Once you’ve been charged with a crime, you may either contact a criminal defense attorney directly or one may be assigned to you through the public defender’s office. In either case, your attorney should conduct an in-person interview with you regarding the case. During this interview, they will collect as many details about the case as possible and answer any questions you may have regarding your charges. 

In addition to asking the accused questions about their case, a criminal defense lawyer will conduct a separate investigation to pursue possible paths of acquittal. This may include questioning police procedures, speaking with witnesses, and collecting documents that could prove exculpatory to the defendant. Criminal defense attorneys have the right to review all materials related to the prosecution’s case before it’s submitted to a jury, allowing them to pinpoint any flaws with the prosecutor’s case through careful analysis of the evidence. 

A criminal defense lawyer will also assist with: 

  • Jury Selection: Defense attorneys may seek to have jurors removed for cause if they detect bias against the defendant during the selection process. 
  • Plea Bargaining: Attorneys are responsible for negotiating with the prosecutor for possible plea bargains to help secure a more favorable outcome for their clients. 
  • Trial Participation: Perhaps the greatest responsibility of a criminal defense attorney is their examination and cross-examination of witnesses during the trial itself. 
  • Sentencing: If the defendant is found guilty or accepts a plea bargain, the attorney can represent them during the sentencing phase, helping convince the judge or jury to agree to a more favorable sentence or possible alternatives to incarceration. 

Types of Common Criminal Cases 

There are a number of different types of criminal cases that can be filed against you in North Carolina, each of which has different consequences depending on the severity of the crime. The following are just some of the most common criminal cases and the average sentencing you could face if you don’t have a knowledgeable lawyer by your side: 

  • Violent Crimes: Violent crimes in North Carolina are typically considered a type of felony, except when the victim has only sustained minor injuries, in which case it may be considered an assault charge, which is a misdemeanor offense. Depending on the class of felony, sentencing can be as little as three months or as severe as the death penalty. Misdemeanor assault charges typically receive 30 – 60 days of jail time and probation, depending on the defendant’s criminal history.
  • Traffic Crimes: From speeding and reckless driving to hit-and-runs and suspended licenses, there are a number of different traffic crimes one can be charged with in North Carolina. Most traffic crimes involve a fine between $100 – $1,000, and may also involve jail time depending on the severity of the offense. 
  • DWI Crimes: There are five different levels of DWI crimes that a person can be charged with in North Carolina. At the low end, the defendant could face a $200 fine, up to 60 days in jail, and 24 hours of community service. A Level I offense, however, will result in a $4,000 fine, up to two years in jail, and required completion of a substance abuse program. 
  • Additional Crimes: From burglary and financial crimes to drug possession and gun violations, there are a broad range of misdemeanor and felony offenses that one can receive. Depending on the severity of the crime, you could be facing significant prison time, not to mention the financial strain of legal fees and court fines. 

What to Look for in a Criminal Defense Lawyer

The moment you suspect criminal charges may be coming, it’s important to seek out a lawyer that’s capable of meeting your needs. A strong criminal defense attorney is one that: 

  • Possesses a strong degree of integrity 
  • Has good communication skills
  • Is caring and understanding
  • Provides thorough research and demonstrates strong investigative skills 
  • Has strong analytical skills 
  • Is aggressive when needed, yet approachable to clients 

Lawyers Experienced with the Charged Crime 

Above all else, it’s critical that you seek out an attorney who has specific experience litigating the crime with which you’ve been charged. Once a lawyer has passed the bar exam and completed their education, they typically will specialize in one area of the law. For instance, if you’re facing criminal charges in North Carolina, it probably wouldn’t be in your best interest to secure a lawyer who largely deals with civil suits. You need an attorney that’s comfortable navigating the criminal justice system and who has a wealth of experience litigating the exact type of criminal charges you’re facing. 

Look Locally for Experienced Lawyers

Finding a criminal defense attorney near you is an important part of the process. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Charlotte, NC, CMLAW offers the comprehensive legal counsel you need to navigate your case. Our team has experience litigating many different types of criminal cases, including violent crimes, homicides, DWIs, and financial crimes. Allow us to help earn the best outcome for your case by contacting our criminal defense team for a legal consultation today!