You’ve probably seen the image hundreds of times in fiction or true crime stories: the defense attorney passionately fighting for his or her client in the courtroom, giving opening and closing statements, cross-examining witnesses, and persuading the jury. Yet most people never see the vast amounts of behind-the-scenes work that criminal defense attorneys put into preparing for trial. While a confident and impassioned courtroom presence is undoubtedly important, lawyers who succeed at trial also require a solid foundation of thorough trial preparation that takes place weeks and months before ever stepping foot into the courtroom. While every case is unique and circumstances can vary quite a bit, below are just a few common elements of a defense attorney’s trial preparation.
A trial is a formal legal proceeding where the facts of a case are presented to a judge (in a bench trial) or a jury of one’s peers (in a jury trial) to determine whether a defendant is found to be guilty or not guilty of a certain offense. For a variety of reasons, the majority of criminal cases in Ohio never go to trial. In many instances, a defense attorney is able to negotiate a favorable plea deal with the prosecutor, resulting in a defendant pleading guilty, often in exchange for a more lenient or lesser charge. Other cases are resolved during the pre-trial process; for example, a defense lawyer can file a “motion to suppress evidence” or a “motion to dismiss charges” that can greatly benefit a defendant and perhaps prevent a case from going to trial. If plea bargaining fails and the defendant does not wish to plead guilty, and a judge concludes that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed, a trial will be scheduled.
A superior criminal defense is built upon a comprehensive understanding of the case and the defendant. A defense attorney gathers information through several means, including:
Next, a defense attorney will analyze the collected facts of the case and create a “theory of defense” that encapsulates his or her client’s version of the story and answers any questions or doubts the prosecution will likely raise at trial. The best criminal defense lawyers utilize a team approach when developing a theory of defense; brainstorming and thinking outside the box alongside other expert attorneys leads to the most effective and innovative defense strategies.
Similarly, the successful defense attorney will bring in outside consultants to lend their expertise to a case as needed. Examples include:
So what does all mean for you as an average citizen? Being aware of the importance of pre-trial preparation will come in handy should you ever find yourself in a scenario heading toward a trial. If you need to hire a criminal defense attorney, you will know to seek out the very best counsel: someone who keeps you informed every step of the way, conducts independent investigations, and works collaboratively both inside and outside of his team to formulate the very best defense. Aligning yourself with a well prepared and passionate attorney could very well mean the difference between acquittal and conviction.