If have found yourself involved in a criminal case — as a suspect, witness or defendant — you might be wondering if the time is right to hire a criminal defense lawyer.

The short answer is yes, it’s always a good idea to consult with a defense attorney as early as possible. Your attorney can review your situation with you, advise you on the best course of action, and if needed, defend your freedom in the criminal justice system.

If you or someone you know needs help, don’t hesitate to contact the Helfend Law Group. Attorney Robert M. Helfend has more than 30 years of experience defending clients in California state and federal cases. Call 800-834-6434 to schedule a free case evaluation.

What does a criminal defense attorney do?

A criminal defense attorney is a lawyer who represents defendants (people or organizations) who have been accused of committing crimes. A good defense attorney will help you understand the charges you are facing, inform you of your legal options, consider all the possible outcomes of your case and form a strong defense strategy to get you the best possible results. 

It’s important that you find a defense attorney whose expertise fits your case. Some criminal lawyers focus on a particular area of practice, whereas others may have experience representing clients across a wide range of criminal cases.

Before you hire a criminal defense lawyer, you should know whether they focus their practice on areas such as financial crimes, drug crimes, DUI, federal crimes or other types of offenses. 

How can a defense attorney help you in your criminal case?

Some of the things that your criminal defense attorney can do to help you in your case include:

  • Give you legal advice – Your attorney will keep you informed of your rights, legal defense options and the potential outcomes of your case based on their extensive knowledge of the legal system. 
  • Speak on your behalf – From the moment you are arrested or accused of committing a crime, everything you say to law enforcement or legal officials could potentially be used against you. Whether in an interrogation, arraignment or other circumstance, allowing your attorney to speak for you could prevent you from mistakenly misrepresenting or incriminating yourself. 
  • Find additional evidence or witnesses – It’s the prosecutor’s job to gather evidence to be used against you. However, there may be additional exonerating evidence or witnesses that could help to prove your innocence that haven’t yet been brought forth. A skilled criminal lawyer knows where to look for evidence that could help you win your case or have your charges dropped. 
  • Negotiate plea bargains – In some cases, your attorney may advise you to consider negotiating a plea deal. A plea deal is an agreement made between you and your lawyer and the prosecutor, wherein you receive a reduced penalty for admitting guilt to certain charges. Your attorney can negotiate plea bargains on your behalf and ensure that the agreement is fair and in your best interest. 
  • Have your charges dropped before going to trial – In some cases, it may be possible to have your charges reduced or dropped before going to trial. Your criminal lawyer will look for all possible ways to prevent or minimize damage to your record and reputation.

When to hire a criminal defense lawyer

If you’re facing criminal charges, the sooner you can hire a defense attorney, the better. While it’s important to take the time to ensure that your lawyer has the skills and expertise to handle your case, you don’t want to waste time securing legal counsel.

The ideal time to hire an attorney is before the first time you are interviewed or questioned by law enforcement. If your case has already proceeded beyond that point, you will still benefit from hiring an attorney as soon as possible.

Are the times when a criminal defense lawyer isn’t necessary?

It isn’t necessary to hire a criminal lawyer if you are accused of committing an infraction. An infraction is a violation of the law that isn’t serious enough to be considered a crime, such as a traffic ticket.

For any offense more serious than an infraction, it is recommended that you hire a criminal attorney. In criminal cases, there may be instances where the outcome would have been the same whether or not the defendant worked with a lawyer.

However, it is much more likely that handling a case on your own will result in a weaker defense and unfavorable outcomes that could have been avoided, had you hired an expert criminal lawyer.  

How long can you wait to hire an attorney?

The longer you wait to hire an attorney, the less time they will have to develop your defense strategy.

In order to have time to establish an attorney-client relationship and prepare your defense, it is essential that you hire an attorney before your arraignment. If it is taking you longer than expected to find an attorney with the right experience in your price range, you can narrow your search by using a trusted database like Super Lawyers

What if you can’t afford an attorney?

According to the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, you have a right to an attorney, even if you can’t afford one.

If you’re unable to afford an attorney, you can inform the court at your arraignment and a public defender will be provided at no cost to you. However, if you have the means to hire the attorney of your choice, doing so is definitely preferable. 

Public defenders often manage heavy caseloads, which can limit the time and resources they can devote to each individual case. According to a study by the National Center for State Courts, public defenders can handle up to 200 felony cases per year, far exceeding the recommended 150-case maximum. This overburden can lead to less thorough preparation and potentially weaker defense strategies.

In contrast, a private attorney typically has a more manageable caseload, allowing for more personalized attention and thorough preparation. Statistics also suggest that defendants represented by private attorneys often have better outcomes.

A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 77% of public defender clients were convicted, compared to 62% of those represented by private attorneys. Hiring a private attorney can significantly improve your chances of a favorable outcome in your case.

How to find the best criminal defense attorney for your case

Your ideal attorney will be one with experience handling a wide variety of cases, including cases similar to yours.

Some attorneys specialize in certain practice areas, such as drug crimes or DUI, but a well-rounded background in addition to their specialization ensures that they have a thorough knowledge of the legal system. An attorney’s professional biography can provide a lot of information about their education and career and is a good place to start your research. 

A criminal case is a serious matter, so it’s important that you hire a lawyer that you can trust to give you advice and fight for you to the fullest extent.

Taking advantage of the free initial consultations that many defense attorneys offer can help you get a better idea of who you’d be working with. It is possible to switch lawyers mid-case if you feel you’ve hired the wrong one but doing so can create challenges in building your defense and add more stress during an already stressful time. Hiring the right lawyer from the start will allow your case to proceed as smoothly as possible and leave you feeling like you are in good legal hands. 

Find the best outcome in your case with quality criminal defense from the start 

Hiring the best attorney can feel daunting, especially when you start looking into things like attorney’s fees.

But keep in mind that, while a top-rated criminal attorney may cost some money upfront, it might save you money in the long run.

The benefits of potentially avoiding harsh penalties, like fees and jail time, are worth the time and money it takes to find the right lawyer. You don’t want to find yourself trying to navigate the legal system on your own or ending up with a weak defense strategy. Hiring the right criminal defense attorney from the start can have numerous long-term benefits. 

Robert M. Helfend has defended thousands of cases over his more than four decades as a criminal attorney. With expertise in everything from DUI to violent crimes, drug crimes and federal crimes, he puts his extensive knowledge and experience to work for his clients.

Mr. Helfend has received recognition as one of LA’s top attorneys from several professional organizations including Super Layers, the National Trial Lawyers Association’s top 100 attorneys list, and Expertise.com. If you’re facing criminal charges, you deserve to have the strongest possible legal defense from a criminal lawyer you can trust.

Call the Helfend Law Group today for your free initial consultation 800-834-6434.

Published July 4, 2024.