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A licensed attorney may choose to focus his or her practice on any area of the law that interests him or her. Many attorneys choose to practice criminal law by either representing the government as a prosecutor or district attorney, or by becoming a defense attorney and representing individuals who have been accused of a crime. Within the area of criminal law, an attorney may further specialize his or her practice by becoming a felony attorney. A felony attorney is an attorney who either prosecutes felony cases or who represents those who have been accused of felony crimes.
In most judicial systems throughout the world, crimes are divided into two main categories — felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanor crimes are usually crimes that are non-violent in nature, such as shoplifting, possession of marijuana, or prostitution. Felony crimes are more serious crimes, such as robbery, drug trafficking, or rape. Consequently, misdemeanor crimes frequently carry a maximum term of imprisonment of a year or two, while felony crimes carry considerably longer potential sentences.
When a person is charged with a crime, a prosecutor or district attorney will be assigned to prosecute the case. In many prosecutor offices, a felony attorney is assigned to felony cases, while a misdemeanor attorney handles misdemeanor prosecutions. Attorneys with more experience are usually those who handle the more serious felony prosecutions. From the prosecution's perspective, the job of a felony attorney is to ensure that the defendant is convicted of the crime for which he or she is charged.
A defendant who has been charged with a felony will often hire a felony attorney to represent him or her throughout the legal proceedings. An attorney who represents the defendant will start by trying to secure the release of the defendant on bond or bail. In many cases, this will require filing a motion with the court and attending a hearing on behalf of the defendant.
The next phase of a felony case is to investigate and analyze the case that the prosecution has against the defendant. This may involve reviewing tangible physical evidence and/or completing depositions with witnesses. Once the case against the defendant has been analyzed, a felony attorney will often explore the possibility of reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution if the defendant is, in fact, guilty and it appears as though the prosecution has enough evidence to convict the defendant.
If a plea agreement is not an option, then a felony attorney will prepare the case for trial. A trial may be held in front of a judge or jury. The job of a defense attorney at this stage is to defend the defendant and put enough doubt in the mind of the judge or jury members to secure an acquittal.
@Vincenzo -- I think most people get involved in criminal law because it is (arguably) easier than some more complex branches of civil law.
What I mean by that is that the criminal code is pretty clear in terms of what elements are necessary for each crime. The state can either prove those elements or it cannot. The defenses job is to throw enough reasonable doubt on a case to make sure his or her client walks free.
Compare that to, say, a divorce. That is all mired in ill defined laws and precedents that it is difficult to bring a client through that process.
Being a criminal lawyer (a phrase that some might call redundant!) is a tough thing to do. If you mess up, an innocent person might go to the state penitentiary. If a violent criminal doesn't like the job his or her attorney did, the he might get out of jail and go looking for that lawyer.
The whole career just seems to stressful. I am not sure why people get involved in it.