It is normal to be concerned and anxious if you have been charged with a crime. The ramifications of a criminal conviction are far-reaching. A criminal record can impact your custody rights, your job, and even your right to drive a car.
Whether you had a lapse of judgment, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or are have been falsely accused, after a criminal charge the goal is to provide a strong defense and ensure your rights are protected. This discussion explains when you may need a criminal defense lawyer, how they can assist you, and tips for finding the right legal professional to oversee your case.
What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?
A criminal defense lawyer is a type of attorney who specializes in the defense of clients who have been charged with a crime. Different jurisdictions employ defense lawyers to represent individuals who cannot afford a private attorney. They are called public defenders. Other defense lawyers can be hired privately.
If you work with a criminal defense lawyer, you can expect them to do the following:
Meet with you to discuss your case. After an individual has been charged with a serious crime, typically their first step would be contacting a criminal defense lawyer. As noted above, that can be a private attorney or a public defender provided by the court.
The client meets with their defense lawyer and explains what transpired and what led to their arrest. If the client is not completely transparent, their lawyer cannot create an effective defense strategy. These meetings usually happen in person.
Investigate the facts. Once the criminal defense lawyer meets with their client and hears their version of what happened, they begin their own investigation.
Depending on the alleged crime, they may look at police reports, drug tests, bodycam footage, and any other evidence that helps tell the story of how and what occurred when their client was arrested. As they review the evidence, they are always considering how it may be perceived in the eyes of the jurors.
Select a jury. Although not every case goes to trial, many do. Defense lawyers play an important role in the jury selection process. Their goal is to identify prospective jurors who are unlikely to have a bias against their client and are willing to view the case with an open mind. Some criminal defense lawyers hire juror selection specialists to assist with this process.
Guide you during the plea bargain process. In many cases, prosecutors will offer a plea bargain, or a lesser sentence, to a defendant if they admit guilt or cooperate with the courts in some way. For example, they may have information about another suspect. They may agree to provide that information in exchange for a reduced sentence that helps them out of jail.
The plea-bargaining process involves negotiation between the defense lawyers and the prosecution team. Because there is a lot at stake, it can be difficult to make a decision about a plea bargain. Some defendants are not willing to say they are guilty because of the stigma of the crime, even if it means a better deal for them. The criminal defense lawyer’s role is to present the advantages and disadvantages and help their client make an informed decision.
Represent you in court. If the case goes to trial, your criminal defense lawyer acts as your representative or your voice in the courtroom. They argue on your behalf, hear testimony, cross-examine witnesses, and communicate to jurors, in an effort to convince the jurors to rule in your favor.
Handle your sentencing. If you are convicted of a crime, you will be sentenced at a separate hearing. Your criminal defense lawyer does all they can to obtain the minimum sentence possible, including speaking to the judge on your behalf. Although they cannot guarantee your sentence will be reduced, a defense lawyer is probably your best hope of doing so.
What Is Considered a Criminal Offense in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, crimes are categorized by their severity, with first- and second-degree crimes being the most serious. These crimes come with the presumption of imprisonment; therefore, anyone who commits them is likely to spend time in jail.
First-degree crimes Include:
- Aggravated manslaughter
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Distribution of narcotics, usually high quantities
- Armed robbery
- Vehicular manslaughter, in some cases
Second-degree crimes include:
- Aggravated assault without injury
- Certain drug possession and distribution crimes
- Endangering the welfare of a child
- Some types of sexual assault
- Theft of property of a certain value
- Unarmed robbery
Third- and fourth-degree crimes do not have the presumption of imprisonment, especially if the accused has no prior criminal record. However, if you do have a prior conviction, or your third- or fourth-degree crime is more serious, you can still end up in jail. A lot depends on the specific details of the incident and your criminal history.
Third-degree crimes include burglary, damage to property, and drug-related charges. Common fourth-degree crimes are stalking, shoplifting, and other drug charges.
Ways a Criminal Record Can Affect Your Life
Although it is not always possible to escape a conviction, the criminal defense attorney’s job is to build a defense to, it is hoped, lessen your penalties and reduce the fallout from a criminal record. Even if a criminal charge is not dropped from the outset, it can often be expunged, or removed, from your record after a certain number of years.
If you have never been charged with a crime before, you probably do not realize how it can impact your future. A criminal record can affect the following:
- Child custody: A parent convicted of a crime can see their rights reduced or removed altogether, especially if their crime involved any type of physical violence.
- College: Some colleges and universities have policies to reject applicants with a criminal record. Those with drug or sex crimes are unlikely to obtain financial aid as well.
- Driving: Charges involving drugs or alcohol can lead to a suspended license for a certain amount of time.
- Employment: In most cases, employers have the right to do a background check on applicants and make decisions based on what they find.
- Immigration: A criminal record can keep foreign nationals from obtaining a green card and can even result in removal from the United States.
- Leasing and renting: In some states, property owners can refuse applicants with certain crimes on their record, regardless of when they occurred.
Although this may sound a bit discouraging to anyone charged with a crime, if you have a skilled criminal defense lawyer on your side, you are not alone in your fight. Your lawyer will do all they can to fight for your legal rights and possibly get your charge dropped or reduced.
Lawyers know the judicial system and how it works. And the relationships they have forged with prosecutors can work in your favor. Those relationships help your lawyer negotiate to obtain a better plea deal. As we know in this country, every person is innocent until proven guilty.
That is why defense attorneys also review every case meticulously to assess if any police errors occurred and to make sure any evidence against you was collected lawfully. Law enforcement agents must be held accountable as well.
If the cost of legal representation is holding you back from scheduling a consultation with an attorney, consider that the expense of a lawyer is often minimal compared with the possible permanent life changes that can come with a criminal conviction.
Monmouth County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Vigorously Defend the Rights of Clients Facing Criminal Charges in New Jersey
If you are charged with a crime, do not put your future in the hands of just any lawyer. The Monmouth County criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law have been serving New York and New Jersey since 1988. We take the time to listen to your concerns and understand the facts of your case so we can provide the strongest defense possible. For a free consultation, call us at 732-308-0200 or complete our online form. We are located in Freehold, New Jersey, and help clients throughout Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, Monmouth County, Marlboro, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn, New York, and New York City.