What does the Defendant's Attorney do?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The defendant’s attorney, whether in criminal or civil cases, represents and defends a client in the best manner possible. This might mean casting doubt on the notion of a client’s guilt or civil liability, which involves either diminishing the case of the prosecution or plaintiff and/or finding and producing evidence of the client’s innocence. Such work can also involve negotiation with the opposition to reduce charges, counseling of clients on what type of plea to enter, and recommendations on the client’s legal choices. Throughout any court case or negotiation with the plaintiff’s attorney or prosecutors, the defendant’s attorney also needs to explain proceedings to the client, offering them a full array of choices.

A defendant's attorney represents an individual being tried on criminal charges or sued in a civil case.
A defendant's attorney represents an individual being tried on criminal charges or sued in a civil case.

A defendant’s attorney first reviews cases and communicates with clients. After a preliminary review, lawyers often make recommendations on what actions they think are in the client’s best interest, such as whether to settle or pursue a trial. Clients don’t have to follow the lawyer’s advice, and the competent defense attorney presents all options, usually with a best guess of the results of different paths. Ultimately, because the attorney is the client’s representative, he must follow the client’s wishes on how to proceed.

A defendant's attorney must carefully review and research their case.
A defendant's attorney must carefully review and research their case.

Client choice on proceedings means the defendant’s attorney may then have several different jobs. Bargaining with the opposition could settle the case or the attorney could prepare for a skillful defense at trial. Attorneys aren’t wedded to one scenario or another. If prosecuting attorneys are unwilling to budge on settling a case, the defendant’s attorney can always resort to a trial. Alternately, any time during a trial, before a verdict is reached, both sides can strike a deal.

A defendant's attorney may speak on their behalf to local news stations.
A defendant's attorney may speak on their behalf to local news stations.

If defense at trial is chosen, the defendant’s attorney reviews evidence collected by the opposing side and looks for ways to show this evidence is inadequate proof of criminal behavior or civil wrongdoing. In criminal trials, the accused doesn’t have to prove innocence, but a skillful defense must create reasonable doubt of guilt. Civil attorneys are more challenged on this issue because the threshold for “proof” of guilt is lower, and favorable plaintiff verdicts don’t necessarily require a unanimous vote. In either case, the attorney defends the client in several ways — by finding or providing witnesses or expert testimony that casts doubt, or when possible, finding evidence that proves innocence.

A defendant's attorney should explain the legal proceedings to his or her client, and offer an array of choices on possible ways to proceed.
A defendant's attorney should explain the legal proceedings to his or her client, and offer an array of choices on possible ways to proceed.

In court, the attorney questions the witnesses of the opposing side, attempting to discredit them. He also presents witnesses and examines them to create doubt. Lawyers additionally research law pertinent to the case and object to proceedings that appear against the law or in disfavor to the client, filing any necessary motions. Contact with clients and assessment of case strengths continues during the trial.

A defendant's attorney must follow her wishes on how to proceed with a case.
A defendant's attorney must follow her wishes on how to proceed with a case.

The defendant’s attorney may still represent clients after a trial is over in matters like sentencing. They could also renegotiate settlements in civil cases or might file motions to appeal or set aside verdicts. The ongoing work of this lawyer tends to depend on case outcome and may vary.

A defendant's attorney should be prepared to defend her client at trial.
A defendant's attorney should be prepared to defend her client at trial.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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