Any person can commit a crime, either consciously or not. Sometimes even actions that seem harmless, funny, or appropriate may result in lawsuits with serious penalties. Whether your crime was intentional or not (especially where the crime may result in imprisonment), it is always important to have a good criminal defense attorney fighting for your case.
When it comes to violent crimes in PA, including assault, robbery, sexual assault, and murder, having the best, experienced criminal defense attorney is essential. Victims want justice in the form of lengthy jail time, public outrage can influence judge and jury, law enforcement and DA’s want to set examples. You need someone on your side who has experience in the process and knowledge of the law to ‘level the playing field’ and get you a fair outcome.
1. Negotiations and Plea Bargains
Whenever possible, a criminal defense attorney will work with the defendant and the prosecutor to negotiate an “arrangement,” especially when they know their client may end up getting long jail terms or even the death penalty (read here about PA Governor Tom Wolf’s recent decisions to suspend the PA death penalty). These arrangements, often called “plea deals” or “plea bargains,” are meant to reduce the burden on the court in exchange for lessening your potential sentence or removing some of the charges brought against you.
Prosecutors can be unwilling to enter negotiations for violent crimes with defendants who are representing themselves. Face it, prosecutors know they have more knowledge and experience in trial situations than someone who does not practice law as a career and may see an easy win for their record. Not because the case or evidence is stronger, but because they have a firmer grasp of what works with judges and juries, know what laws and precedents to reference, and have interrogation techniques that can turn the Dalai Lama into Genghis Khan!
In the event that you are found liable or guilty for the crime you are accused of, your criminal defense attorney may have the capacity to work your sentencing in a way that would lessen your penalty. For example, instead of going to jail for murder, an experienced criminal lawyer may argue for you to be tried for manslaughter or when accused of rape, have the charge reduced to sexual harassment or indecent behavior. Thorough investigation of the case and the procedures law enforcement followed (or didn’t follow) may uncover mistakes, broken or misapplied laws that could provide you leverage you would never have thought you had!
3. Emotions and Reality Checks
Face it…we are all more passionate about our own experiences, actions, and reasons than anyone else. Combine this passion with feelings of depression, fright, embarrassment and the overall stress of criminal proceedings and it can take a big toll on a person’s ability to make objective decisions. When it comes to criminal charges, trials, and sentencing, some things that feel important to the defendant might not really matter at all.
A good criminal defense attorney will be able to give you a reality check…sort out the relevant facts from emotional luggage that may be interfering with a good defense. A prosecutor, judge, and/or jury do not have the same emotional ties as a defendant and it is crucial facts are presented accurately. Criminal defense attorneys are much better positioned to stay objective through the course of the trial and can offer bits of insights on what is ‘likely’ to happen next. Such insights play an important role in deciding whether to accept plea bargains.
4. Loopholes and Technicalities
We hear the terms all the time in crime dramas on TV and sensationalized real cases in the news. A dismissal caused by a technicality or loophole can be the result of police officers, prosecutors, or someone else in the law enforcement chain not following procedures or laws that are in place.
As American citizens, we are guaranteed certain rights and freedoms. There are thousands of laws that have been created to ensure our rights are not violated. Most of us have a pretty good gist of what the law is and what our civil rights are, but unless you spend your free time studying the Constitution, the “Bill of Rights,” the Civil Rights Act, court cases, and laws (like a good criminal defense attorney), it is doubtful that you would even know whether any laws were broken. Townhall.com states “There are at least 5,000 federal criminal laws, with 10,000-300,000 regulations.” There are about 20,000 laws just governing the use and ownership of guns. There are over 7000 pages of tax law. There are so many federal laws that you will be hard pressed to even find an actual number of US federal laws. Then you have PA State Laws and local laws too. In fact, you are probably breaking a law right now or will within the next day or so without even knowing it! It is highly unlikely that even the most conscientious police officer would know and understand all of the laws surrounding your arrest and/or case.
While it can be upsetting to the victim and the public to hear about charges being dismissed or reduced due to a technicality, laws and procedures are in place to protect each and every one of us and ensure our rights.
A criminal defense attorney’s job is to be knowledgeable of the laws regarding your case and make sure that law enforcement not only did their job, but did it well and within the law. An experienced lawyer will be able to review your case for violations and will have more capacity, time, and resources to invest than a litigant representing himself or herself.
5. Hidden Costs of a Guilty Plea
In most cases, the desire by all sides is to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial. This can be done through “bargaining” for a guilty plea – the state gets to save the money and resources they would need to prove your guilt at trial and, in exchange, you receive a reduced penalty. However, a guilty plea may have consequences that you are unaware of such as losing your right to own a gun or vote. It is not the prosecutors job or duty to inform you of all of the long-term consequences. Lawyers are better furnished with information about the hidden costs of returning a guilty plea.
6. Witness Statements
Experience allows criminal defense attorneys to effectively assemble proof and proclamations from witnesses. With self or no representation, witness or victim statements can be unattainable because of fear or unwillingness to talk to the defendant. Criminal defense attorneys also have a wide range of resources they can call upon including private investigators and expert witnesses, and they know how to interview them to get the best testimony.
The Verdict on Criminal Defense Attorneys
There is a big difference between studying and practicing law and experience with the court system can play a huge role in the final outcome of a trial. Although it might make sense to represent yourself or forgo representation because of your innocence, it is a huge risk and it is almost always a bad idea to go to court completely unrepresented!
Are you in need of an experienced criminal defense attorney?
If you live in Erie County and need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you with your criminal case, call today!
Criminal Defense Attorney Keith Clelland
Modern Tool Square
333 State St #203
Erie, PA 16507