What Do Criminal Defense Attorneys Do?

Most people have seen a television show or movie in which criminal defense attorneys bang on the table in court to defend the accused. However, criminal defense lawyers do more than argue for you in court. Here are five ways criminal defense attorneys can help you:

Listen to You

In many cases, the prosecuting attorney draws up totally one-sided charging documents. Your first meeting with your lawyer is your opportunity to tell your side of the story.

Critical to your representation by a criminal lawyer is honest communication. It does not benefit you or your lawyer to lie or leave facts out. In fact, the more complete your discussion with a lawyer is, the more facts the lawyer can use to form a defense and the fewer surprises the lawyer will face in court.

To facilitate this free exchange, your communications with your lawyer are confidential. This means that your lawyer cannot disclose the content of your communications to anyone, including law enforcement or the court, with only a few minor exceptions.

Provide Advice

Although it would not enter the mind of most people facing criminal charges, sometimes speaking to a lawyer before taking some action will allow the lawyer to provide counsel to avoid the criminal act.

For example, if you are involved in a divorce and you believe that your ex-spouse should not have custody of your children, you could simply deprive your ex-spouse of custody of your children. However, this could expose you to liability for custodial interference or even kidnapping. Custodial interference can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on many factors. Even when charged as a Class A felony, you could serve up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.

However, if you speak to a criminal defense attorney first, the attorney may be able to provide you with alternative courses of action that are legal. Moreover, the criminal attorney may be able to identify colleagues who practice other areas of law to assist in accomplishing your goal without risking jail time.


Nearly 97% of convictions come from plea bargains rather than trial. These plea bargains arise from a variety of circumstances including:

  • The prosecuting attorneys overcharged the case and cannot prove what they alleged. Therefore, they have an incentive to agree to reduced charges.
  • The case involves difficult evidentiary issues and both the prosecuting attorneys and the defendant agree to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial.
  • The defendant wishes to plead guilty to avoid the uncertainty of a trial in exchange for a sentencing recommendation from the prosecuting attorneys.

In many of these cases, a criminal defense attorney spends as much time negotiating a fair deal as he or she would spend on going to trial. The criminal lawyer has to identify the same factual and legal arguments to persuade the prosecuting attorneys of the fairness of the deal.

Protect Your Rights

If you ask every Knoxville criminal defense attorney why they practice criminal defense, most, if not all, will say that every person deserves a fair trial regardless of the charges. You have certain rights when you are arrested and charged with a crime. These rights come from the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, Tennessee state law, and the courts rules of procedure.

For example, you have a presumption of innocence, which means that if the prosecuting attorneys cannot prove the case, you cannot be convicted. You have the right against unreasonable searches. You have the right to hire the lawyer of your choice. And you have the right to call witnesses and cross-examine witnesses called by the prosecutors.

One role of your lawyer is to keep an eye on the prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement to make sure they follow all the rules. If the court makes a mistake, when enforcing these rules, your lawyer’s role is to create a record of the mistake so an appeals court can review it.

Advocate for You

In the end, you have control over your case. Whether you hire a DUI defense attorney or a murder defense attorney, your lawyer works with you to craft a defense and advocate for your position.

Being accused of a crime can be isolating. Friends and family may not know what to do. But your criminal defense attorney is on your side.