It isn’t a secret is that criminal defense attorneys can get a bad rap because of how they are portrayed on TV and in movies. But there is far more going on behind the scenes. Literally and figuratively standing beside a person accused of a crime—from something minor to a murder charge—can be a truly thankless job. Criminal defense attorneys help defendants exercise their constitutionally protected right to a fair trial, but many find satisfaction in the excitement of the case, as well.
Straight from criminal defense attorneys themselves, here are 15 secrets of criminal defense you might not know.
- Attorneys’ feelings don’t get in the way of trials. No matter how an attorney feels about their client’s alleged crime, they stick to their duty to represent them fairly.
- A relationship with the defendant is critical. Trust goes a long way in an attorney-client relationship, and taking the time to get to know client improves that relationship. A solid relationship also gives attorneys insight into how to present clients as relatable and human.
- They really know their jurors. Prior to the trial, criminal defense attorneys treat juror selection like a science. They research jurors’ backgrounds, putting tons of work into selecting 12 that are the most promising for their client. Once the trial begins, they are constantly monitoring the juror's body language to determine which way the jurors might be leaning.
- They stand close to their clients on purpose. Not only is standing close an act of solidarity, but it’s also practical. Clients stand close because, for instance, when verdicts are being read, it can be a high-stress and emotional moment for the defendant. They often need someone to support them physically and emotionally, and attorneys stick by their clients until the very end.
- Clients can get in their own way even before being involved in an investigation. Even though everyone has a right to an attorney, many people still end up talking to police before or after they’ve been charged. This can put a huge wrench in the case and be a big frustration for criminal defense attorneys.
- They get threatened. Attorneys are often deemed guilty by association. Attorneys of high-profile alleged criminals often receive hate mail and death threats. However, any attorney will tell you that just because they’re representing a murderer doesn’t mean they are an advocate for the crime.
- An innocent defendant doesn’t mean an easy case. Unfortunately, perceived guilt can strain a trial so that it is often an uphill battle to prove innocence, even if the client really is innocent.
- They try to make their clients look good—literally. The right color, suit, and tie are things that every client should trust their attorneys with. Even though clients may feel more comfortable or “themselves” in a t-shirt and jeans, attorneys know the system. They will often give their clients mini-makeovers to make them more presentable, appealing, and relatable.
- Yes, they love the excitement of the trial. While trials are exciting, the actual process is much slower than you see on TV. There are many motions to file, research to be done, and the exciting litigation you see on TV is only a small portion of trying a case, but that excitement is the part they enjoy the most.
- Everyone loves a “can’t-win” case. Sometimes the prosecution appears so confident of a conviction, and there seems to be no obvious way for a defense win that criminal defense attorneys can actually thrive on the odds. It’s not uncommon amongst defense attorneys to take on an underdog role and the most difficult cases.
- They have serious doubts about the bail system. Many criminal defense attorneys find the current bail system unfair, and they often aim to design plea bargains that are favorable to the prosecution. For those clients unable to make bail, long wait times in jail while awaiting a jury trial mean more time to potentially strike a plea bargain with the prosecution.
- The True Crime genre is changing the way they work. With the rise of podcasts, TV, and docu-series covering real criminal trials, viewers and potential jurors consider themselves more educated than they really are about the way the criminal justice system works. This is forcing attorneys to adapt to jurors in the way they make their appeals.
- Public opinions can change the course of a trial. If an arrest or indictment has made the news, attorneys pay close attention to how the public reacts to the report, which helps inform their strategy during the trial.
- They don’t have to tell anyone if a defendant is guilty. If a client discloses to their attorney that they are guilty, the attorneys still fulfill their obligation not to let their client lie under oath, but they are not required to disclose that information.
- Sometimes clients ask for advice before committing a crime. It’s illegal for an attorney to provide advice on how to commit a crime, but people often ask anyway.