How to Choose a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you're faced with any kind of criminal charge, whether minor or serious, it's a good idea to seek legal advice. As a first step in any legal situation, a consultation with an attorney can help you understand the charges against you. Your attorney can explain the charges, any possibilities for a plea bargain, and what your next steps should be. From there, you can determine whether you need a criminal defense attorney to represent you in court.


A criminal defense attorney represents people charged with criminal conduct or those who have had a lawsuit filed against them. The majority of defense attorneys specialize in either civil or criminal law. Civil law cases are filed by individuals or companies; criminal charges are filed by the local, state, or federal government. In either case, your defense attorney will assist with all legal issues related to your case and, if your case goes to trial, your attorney will represent you in court. 

Once you've decided to hire a defense attorney, you must determine whether you need a state or federal attorney. If you've broken a state law (examples include traffic violations, breaches of contract, family disputes, etc.), you'll need a state attorney. If you've broken a federal law (such as US constitution violations, copyright cases, or patent cases), you must hire a federal attorney. When you break a federal law, you're prosecuted by the US Attorney's office. Prosecutors from this office have more time and resources to devote to prosecuting the case. Additionally, these federal cases are often more complex than state cases. Thus, any feasible defense in a federal case requires the expertise of an experienced defense attorney.

Specific or complex cases

If your case is specific or complex, you can search for a defense attorney who specializes in cases of that type. Many attorneys handle both routine criminal cases as well as cases in their area of specialization. The State Bar Association is the authority on this information, so check the Bar Association website for your state for details. 

Consider a public defender

If your charge is not serious (or you have limited resources), consider consulting with the public defender assigned to your case. Public defenders are generally provided for people who can't afford private attorneys, and as such, they have limited time and resources to devote to each individual case. However, if your charges are minor and you have family or friends who can work with the public defender to get you out on bail, it's an option worth considering.

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