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What Does a Criminal Law Attorney Do?

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Prosecutor/District Attorney

In a criminal case, the state, not the victim, files the charges against the defendant. The state’s representative to prosecute the defendant in trial by jury is the district attorney or prosecutor. However, the prosecutor must complete many tasks in order to fulfill the goal of a conviction, since the burden of proof is on the state.

A new criminal law attorney can start out as an Assistant District Attorney and work on misdemeanor cases. Eventually, at the level of District Attorney, this criminal law attorney will decide how the criminal cases are prosecuted and may manage other lawyers. Most prosecutors are employed by local, state or county government or court systems. However, other prosecutors work for the federal court system or government agencies like the CIA or FBI.

For the first step of a criminal trial, the prosecutor must decide whether or not file charges, based on the quality and quantity of evidence. If the evidence is not strong, the district attorney may make a deal with the defense attorney. A prosecuting criminal law attorney must conduct legal research, prepare legal documents, interview witnesses and the victim and evaluate all evidence for cases. The goal is to present a compelling but realistic explanation of why the defendant is guilty. The prosecution’s arguments must be logical but also appeal to the jury; the criminal law attorney must also anticipate the defense’s counter-arguments and counter these doubts.

Public Defender and Private Defense Attorney

A public defender is a government-appointed criminal law attorney for defendants who cannot afford the costs of legal counsel. A public defender works at the local state and federal levels, but only on criminal cases. A private defense criminal law attorney is paid by the defendant and not employed by the government.

However, both a public defender and a private defense attorney do similar tasks in preparing for trial and negotiating for their client. A criminal defense lawyer may try to negotiate with police and the prosecutor to lower charges or punishment levels. If the case does go to trial, the defense attorney can advise the client how to plead and what defense strategy to use in court.

The defense criminal law attorney must also prepare and review all court documents, examine all evidence found in discovery and do any necessary legal research. In addition, the defense lawyer must interview prosecution witnesses, prepare defense experts and witnesses for court, and coach the defendant to deal with cross-examination questions. In the end, the defense lawyer must convince the jury that the prosecution’s arguments are not valid and that they should find the defendant “not guilty”.

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