How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help Me?
If this is your first time in trouble with the law, you may be asking yourself, “How can a criminal defense lawyer help me?”
“He who represents himself has a fool for a client…” is a phrase that I’ve often heard when an attorney suggests that they can represent themselves in court. If it applies to attorneys, it surely applies tenfold to the untrained layperson.
When you are charged with a criminal offense in SC, there is too much at stake to just walk into the courtroom on your own. The question is not, “Should I get a criminal defense lawyer?” Rather, you should be asking, “Who is the right criminal defense lawyer that I can trust to handle my case?”
Below, I will go through some of the reasons why every accused person in SC needs representation, and how a criminal defense lawyer in Charleston, SC can help you.
Every Person Who is Charged with a Crime Needs a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Most people who are charged with a felony offense in Charleston, SC General Sessions Court have a criminal defense attorney helping them with their case.
If you can’t afford to pay a criminal defense lawyer, the Court will appoint a public defender to help you with your case. If you don’t apply for a public defender, the Court will most likely pressure you to either retain an attorney or complete the public defender application.
Although every person has the right to represent themselves, the Courts strongly discourage self-representation. Why is that?
Felony Charges – How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?
If you are charged with a felony offense or a “high misdemeanor” in General Sessions Court in Charleston, SC, you are facing serious potential consequences including:
- Prison time;
- Substantial fines; and
- Collateral consequences like sex offender registration, loss of your driver’s license, immigration consequences, loss of housing, or loss of financial aid for school.
On the other side of your case is a trained, experienced lawyer who does nothing but prosecute defendants all day, every day.
The prosecutor has the support of law enforcement agencies, state evidence labs, in-house investigators, and a “law firm” of trained, experienced prosecutors who can provide any help that is needed.
Your prosecutor can use the tremendous power and resources of the government to secure convictions:
- If they need evidence tested, they send it to a lab.
- If they need surveillance, witness interviews, or evidence collection, they can call detectives at the police department or just use the investigators that work in their office.
- If they need funding, they simply ask for it.
- If they want to seize potential evidence, they get a search warrant or issue a subpoena, and officers will collect the evidence for them.
- If they need to go through thousands of pages of documents or hundreds of hours of audio recordings, they have support staff on hand.
Once the prosecution machine has run you down and secured a conviction, it is extremely difficult to get your conviction overturned – particularly if you did not preserve issues for appeal.
What about “small” criminal charges – surely you can handle those without a defense lawyer, right?
Misdemeanors – How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?
South Carolina has gotten national attention for not providing defense lawyers to indigent persons charged with crimes in our magistrate and municipal courts – even when they are sentenced to jail time.
Many people attempt to represent themselves in Charleston’s magistrate and municipal courts, only to discover, once they have a criminal conviction on their record, that they should have retained a Charleston criminal defense lawyer.
In Charleston’s lower courts:
- The rules of evidence and the “discovery rules” are the same as in General Sessions Court;
- Although there may be a lawyer-prosecutor or there may be an officer on the other side of your case, they still have the full resources of the government at their disposal to secure convictions;
- There are still serious consequences to a conviction including potential jail time, fines, loss of your driver’s license, and a permanent criminal record;
- Some magistrates and municipal judges “play fast and loose” with the rules when you do not have a criminal defense lawyer on your side; and
- To put it bluntly, watching an unrepresented defendant in the lower court is like watching a train wreck…
How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?
Although most people intuitively understand that an experienced Charleston, SC criminal defense lawyer may be able to get their case dismissed or mitigate the damage that the charges can cause, here are some of the reasons why…
Knowledge of the Criminal Courts and Criminal Law
Your criminal defense lawyer spent years studying the law and, more importantly, learning how to research the law. After they graduated from law school, they have spent many hours every year in continuing legal education (CLE) to stay updated on changes in the law and to learn more about their chosen field of practice.
More importantly, there is no substitute for years of navigating Charleston’s criminal courts, trying cases to juries, negotiating with prosecutors, researching the nuances of state and federal criminal law, and familiarity with the Rules of Evidence, Rules of Criminal Procedure, and Rules of Professional Conduct.
Guilty Pleas and Mitigation
You may intend to plead guilty – many people do.
But, should you immediately approach your prosecutor and tell them you are ready to plead guilty? Only if you don’t care about a criminal conviction or the possible punishments that follow…
You don’t know if you have to plead guilty until your criminal defense lawyer has done an independent investigation, talked to all witnesses, reviewed all evidence the government intends to use against you, and prepared your case for a possible trial.
If you do intend to accept a plea offer, you don’t have any leverage for negotiating a lesser charge or a reduced sentence until your criminal defense lawyer has done an independent investigation, talked to all witnesses, reviewed all evidence the government intends to use against you, and prepared your case for a possible trial.
When you accept a plea offer and plead guilty in court, you cannot effectively argue for mercy from the Court unless your criminal defense lawyer has done a mitigation investigation, prepared character witnesses, character reference letters, and compiled positive information about you that might persuade the Court to help you.
Criminal Trials, Acquittals, Dismissals, and Guilty Pleas
Most cases do not end up in jury trials.
All cases could end up in a jury trial, and all cases are evaluated by prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges in terms of what would happen in a jury trial:
- How strong is the state’s evidence?
- How much of the state’s evidence will be admissible at trial?
- Are the state’s witnesses going to be available to testify at trial?
- How strong will your defense be at trial – what kind of evidence is your defense lawyer prepared to present?
- Is the prosecutor prepared for trial? Is your attorney prepared for trial?
As each side evaluates their odds at trial, your plea offer may improve, or your case could be dismissed. If you can’t reach an agreement with the prosecutor, what will the result be at trial? Acquittal or conviction?
Whether you intend to plead guilty, want your case dismissed, or intend to take your case to trial if it is not dismissed, you are fumbling in the dark unless you have an effective, experienced criminal defense lawyer who has investigated the facts, researched the law, prepared mitigation, and prepared your case for a possible trial.
Access to Criminal Defense Resources
To effectively prepare your case for trial, you may need access to expert witnesses, independent labs to test the evidence in your case, or a private investigator to gather evidence and interview witnesses – these are all resources that an experienced criminal defense trial lawyer can access and uses on a regular basis.
Charleston, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer
How can a criminal defense lawyer help?
We can get your case dismissed, negotiate reduced charges or a reduced sentence, or try your case to a jury depending on the facts of your case and your goals. Every person who is charged with a crime in SC needs to have an experienced advocate who can guide them through the process and help them to get the best possible results in their case.