Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney


The role of a criminal defense attorney is to provide legal representation to someone. However, there’s much more to it than this surface-level explanation. The criminal justice system is complex. 

Within this system, a defense lawyer serves as an advocate, protector, guide, and confidant to the defendant. At least, that’s how the ideal version of the relationship. When it comes to criminal defense, attorneys exist in two groups. 

  • Court-appointed lawyers
  • Private attorneys 

When a criminal defendant has the funds for a private attorney, they tend to prefer that. However, the government provides counsel to those who cannot afford it – roughly 80% of defendants. Generally, these court-appointed lawyers are public defenders or “panel attorneys.” 

In some cases, defendants choose to represent themselves. The role of a criminal defense attorney varies by case. However, the responsibilities tend to remain the same. 

What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?

Whether court-appointed or private, a defense attorney performs a few essential duties. 

  • Research the facts of the case 
  • Investigate the case to build a defense 
  • Negotiate deals with the prosecution 
  • Seek the best possible outcome for each client

The ideal resolution for any defendant is innocence. However, this isn’t always the best possible outcome. In negotiations, the role of a criminal defense attorney is to reduce the harshness of any punishment. 

  • Lowered bail 
  • Reduced charges 
  • Shorter sentences

There are numerous factors at play in these cases. From public to political pressure to overwhelmed courts and jails, there’s much to consider. An experienced attorney knows how to navigate and leverage these situations.  

This deal-making is an important element in unclogging an overwhelmed criminal justice system. Additionally, criminal defense attorneys perform a few essential actions in your case. 

  • Examine witnesses
  • Formulate your plea
  • Analyze the prosecution’s case
  • Assess potential sentences
  • Review procedures for flaws 
  • Question witnesses 
  • Gather evidence to build your defense

Moreover, when immigration plays a factor in your case, it is the role of a criminal defense attorney to offer guidance. The same is true for any other potential consequences of the outcome. 

Defense lawyers also provide an essential reality check in regards to the consequences. They let you know the possible outcomes and help you manage your fear and frustration. Of course, when a deal isn’t possible, your attorney also represents you at trial. 

Private or Court-Appointed?

When it comes to a court-appointed attorney vs a private attorney, it typically falls to someone’s circumstances. As mentioned earlier, roughly 80% of defendants cannot afford private representation. However, there are some benefits to selecting your own representation. 

Often, private defense attorneys are former public defenders or prosecutors. This means that they have a great deal of experience within the system. Moreover, it means they understand how the prosecution functions and thinks. 

This provides their clients with a distinct advantage. While studies exist that show similar outcomes between court-appointed and private defenders, these focus more on conviction rates. Often, this fails to account for the “best possible outcome,” which reduces the harshness of a penalty. 

For example, one study showed that defendants fared similarly regardless of representation in conviction rates. However, those with panel attorneys tended to fare much worse. 

Ultimately, the role of a criminal defense attorney in your trial boils down to their experience, commitment, and skills. As such, when you have the opportunity to choose your own representation, you find someone who believes in your case. 

With a court-appointed attorney, so much is left to chance. 

Should I Represent Myself?

What is far more clear is that self-representation tends to be a bad idea. Oftentimes, your best option is to work with an attorney (even when court-appointed). Still, some defendants choose to represent themselves. 

However, it’s important to understand that this decision is ultimately in the hands of the judge. It is up to them to determine whether a defendant is competent enough. When they cannot provide a competent defense on their own, they don’t have a fair trial. 

This is true even when a defendant is adamant about the refusal of legal representation. When a judge decides whether to grant self-representation, they consider a range of factors. 

  • The severity of the crime 
  • Whether the defendant understands court proceedings 
  • The language skills and education of the defendant
  • Whether the defendant understands what giving up their right to representation means

Learn More About the Role of a Criminal Defense Attorney

As you can see, the role of a criminal defense attorney is quite essential. No matter the charge, it’s a good idea to seek professional representation. From theft crimes to DWI, lawyers help to guide you through the process. 

When you need a private defense lawyer, seek out a firm with a specialization in criminal defense. Moreover, find someone with broad experience in your area. Often, local attorneys are familiar with the judges and prosecution in the area. 

Across Harris County and Houston, TX, the Martinez Law Firm offers representation to those who face criminal charges. With decades of experience, Herman Martinez knows how the prosecution thinks. This offers his clients a distinct advantage as he seeks the best possible outcome in their case. 

When you need to understand the role of a criminal defense attorney in your case, trust in the skill and experience of the Martinez Law Firm. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more about your options.