Home > Criminal Defense Guide

Eleven Attributes Of A Good Criminal Defense Attorney

People often ask me how to determine if a Criminal Defense Lawyer is good or not. Having practiced as a San Francisco criminal defense attorney throughout California for thirteen years I have developed some opinions about this, which are laid out in the eleven rules below. These attributes can help make the difference between a good, bad or mediocre result. Remember that good criminal defense lawyering is as much an art as a technical skill. There is no substitute for experience. On the other hand it is unfortunately true that some veteran lawyers are tired of practicing law or have been doing it the wrong way for so long, they can't change their ways. These rules apply to all criminal cases, whether drunk driving, driving under the influence, drugs, fraud, assault, battery, domestic violence or others. Of course they are no different whether you are looking for a San Francisco criminal lawyer, an Oakland lawyer, Hayward lawyer or a lawyer from another part of the country. The rules apply everywhere.

1. The lawyer must care about the result and the client's well being:

This may seem obvious but it is important for lawyers to remember how important a case is to the person charged with a crime. Criminal charges can bring intense stress in all areas of a person's life, including professional, financial and family life. This rule applies whether it is a simple DUI matter or a serious fraud or homicide allegation.

2. Get to know the client and his or her life situation and background:

I cannot tell you the number of times that the unique facts of a persons life, or stresses which they are under, strike a note of sympathy with judges when negotiating the outcome of a case, or at sentencing. More importantly these facts can make a big difference with a jury should a person accused with a crime chose to testify in his or her own defense.

3. Work quickly to try to get the person out of jail:

Needless to say, if a person is in jail and hires a criminal lawyer, they are expecting the lawyer to make every effort to gain their release from jail. There are several things that can be done by the criminal defense attorney to make this happen, including motions to set or reduce bail, motions for release on their own recognizance, or, in the case of a San Francisco criminal lawyer or San Francisco criminal defense attorney, a request for supervised release. For some people that own property, a motion to post real estate in lieu of cash is a good way to avoid paying a ten percent premium to a bail bondsman.

4. Consider the effects of a criminal case on a person's profession, or future profession:

Many convictions can result in the loss of business or professional licenses. Any trade that requires a state license, including hairdressers, nurses, landscapers, and many others, will be in jeopardy if you face criminal charges. Knowing what you are able to accept as part of a plea bargain, or if you are able to plea bargain at all, is critical to making the right choice in your case. Any criminal defense attorney, whether a San Francisco criminal lawyer, Oakland lawyer, Hayward lawyer or other, should be aware of this.

5. Remember confidentiality:

It is important for a criminal lawyer to understand the privacy of the client. This is especially so when dealing with family members of the person charged with a crime. Family may mean well when asking questions, but unless the client authorizes the attorney to talk about it, anything said about the case should remain private and confidential.

6. Consider any immigration consequences:

Anyone who is not a citizen must be especially careful when facing criminal charges. Any conviction or even an admission without entry of a judgment, can result in deportation, exclusion from re-admission or denial of citizenship. This is unfortunately a highly misunderstood area of the law by many criminal lawyers. Understanding these rules is critical whether you are dealing with a San Francisco DUI attorney, San Francisco criminal lawyer, San Francisco criminal defense attorney, Oakland DUI lawyer, Hayward or any attorney from elsewhere in the country.

7. Communication with the client:

Part of why a person hires a criminal lawyer is to understand what is happening in the case as it goes along. A criminal defense attorney must talk about it with the client on a regular basis.

8. Investigation:

In most cases the client should allow the criminal defense attorney to hire an investigator to interview witnesses. If the police did it to gather evidence against you, why wouldn't you want to do it in your own defense. It costs money but it would be "penny wise and pound foolish" to skimp on this part of your defense - that is, unless you agree with the police version of the facts.

9. Legal research and motions:

Any San Francisco criminal defense attorney must be sure to understand the "elements" of an offense, that is, what the prosecutor has to try to prove in order to get a conviction. Many times the prosecution cannot do it, but you wouldn't know it unless you looked at the precise elements. Also many searches resulting in police finding drugs or other contraband are illegal and should be challenged by the criminal lawyer.

10. Negotiation:

The way in which a criminal defense attorney negotiates a case can make the difference in a good or bad result. Bear in mind that not all cases can or should resolve by negotiation. Sometimes your best option is to fight the case all the way to jury trial.

11. Trial

Only about five to ten percent of cases go all the way to jury trial. However for the case that we think we can win, jury trial is usually the best option. On the down side, it is more expensive. That is because it should take intensive preparation for the lawyer. It can be stressful and time consuming for you, the client. But when you win, you walk out the door with no conviction on your record. If the judge and prosecutor refuse to offer you a reasonable alternative, and if you have a workable case, jury trial can be the only smart option. Before a jury is where the true lawyer shines as an advocate. Too many a San Francisco criminal defense attorney and San Francisco DUI attorney has not done enough jury trials, fears going to trial, or has had no success before juries. This is true for attorneys in most locations. Trial should not be rushed into heedlessly. Some cases should not go to trial. But trial should always be an option that you discuss with your lawyer, and your lawyer should appear knowledgeable about the ups and downs of jury trial.

About the Author
David Wise is a criminal defense specialist that enjoys writing about topics that assist readers. For more information on this topic, please visit