The criminal justice system in the United States presumes that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. The system also provides for every citizen to be represented in court by an attorney. If an accused person is unable to pay for his own defense attorney, the court assigns a public defender to him. The role of both a public defender and a private defense attorney is the same.
The main advocate for an accused person is his defense attorney. The attorney will act on behalf of his client in every way possible, from advising the defendant in regards to the best course of action, to ensuring that the his rights are not violated. The defense attorney is also there to explain every step of the legal process.
If a defendant is found guilty, the defense attorney prepares for sentencing and offers mitigating circumstances to the sentencing judge. For instance, in cases where the defendant has a history of mental illness, or has never committed a crime, the defense attorney can make a case for a lighter sentence. There can be many mitigating circumstances—it’s the role of the defense attorney to find and present them.
One a defense attorney accepts a new client, he spends time reviewing the case. He reads the police report, reviews evidence, and looks into the background of his client. He may study past cases to find precedent that may help his client. Defense attorneys often hire their own investigators to find evidence or witnesses that can help prove the innocence of the defendant.
One of main roles of a defense attorney is to determine potential defenses for his client and decide which is the best for the situation. Many times, a case can be argued in several different ways. The defense attorney will look at all of the options and choose the one that he thinks will be most effective. In some cases, a defense attorney may instruct his client to accept a plea bargain.
During court proceedings, the defense attorney finds strategies to persuade a jury of his client’s innocence and create doubt that the defendant is guilty. He may discredit witnesses through their testimony, or discredit evidence through the testimony of experts.
Throughout the process, the defense attorney gives his client advice. He urges his client not to speak when it won’t be in the client’s best interest. He advises his client about the risks and benefits of accepting a plea bargain or going to court. He also advises his client how to behave, look and speak while in court.
Sometimes a defense attorney will advise his client to accept a plea bargain. In this case, the defense attorney will work with the prosecutor to come up with a mutually acceptable agreement. The defense attorney will negotiate the best possible terms for his client.