If you’ve watched any procedural crime shows or lawroom dramas, it’s likely you’ve heard a police officer tell an individual they’re arresting that they “have the right to an attorney,” and if they can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided to them at the expense of the state. The reason this is included in so many small screen depictions of the legal process is because criminal defense is one of the pillars of the American judicial system. However, while you may understand that you’re legally entitled to criminal defense, how it actually works may still be a little confusing. So let’s dive into what is criminal defense, and what you absolutely need to know about it.

Criminal Cases VS.  Civil Cases

To start with, we have to understand the basic distinction between what constitutes a civil case vs what constiutes a criminal case. Civil cases deal largely with disputes between two parties, for instance, property disputes, libel and slander, and a whole variety, of financial, physical and emotional harm incurred by one party upon another. Often times, a civil suit seeks damages (money) on the behalf of a plaintiff at the expense of a defendant. So, if that’s the case, what is criminal law exactly? Well, criminal law deals with a person’s criminal actions against local, state, or federal government. Don’t think of this as a crime directly against the goverment itself, but rather refers to violation of specific laws. So, for instance, a violent crime like murder is charged as the State (or federal government) versus the accused individual. Understanding the difference helps you better assess what kind of legal aid you need.

What Are the Duties of a Defense Attorney?

When trying to answer the question what is criminal defense, it’s important to understand the actual duties of your defense attorney. First, there is a distinction between a private criminal defense attorney, and a public defender supplied to you by the governemnt. Public defenders are those assigned to you if you’re not able to afford a criminal defense attorney, or choose not to hire one. Public defenders are largely dedicated and hard working. However, in many places they are unfortunately overworked and underpaid by the system, meaning they’re not always the best option, especially if it’s monetarily possible for you to hire a private defense attorney. In both cases, your attorney’s job is to represent you in every stage of the legal process, starting before charges are even brought. You have the legal right to have your attorney accompany you during interrogation by the police. Ensuring your attorney is there for every step is incredibly important to help build a strong case. Your defense attorney also represents you in various other matters, including setting your bail, negotiating plea deals, and jury selection. Then, of course, your attorney is charged with building your defense and presenting it in the courtroom.

What Should I Look for In a Criminal Defense Attorney?

To answer the question what is criminal defense, it’s also important to understand what makes a good criminal defense attorney. At its core, criminal defense is about ensuring your rights are properly protected under the law, and that a counter-argument is presented in contrast to what’s provided by the prosecution. Often times, the best criminal defense attorneys are those that have experience as prosecutors themselves, and are familiar with the tactics of prosecution from the other side of the aisle. As with most legal representation, experience matters, as well as feedback from former clients. All of these aspects combined can give you an effective idea of what you should priortize when seeking a criminal defense attorney that is right for you

The likelihood is that if you’re asking what is criminal defense, you may be need of experienced attorneys in your corner. The team at McCullough & Joseph has been fighting for the legal rights of New Jersey citizens for decades. Our attorneys understand the neccesity of criminal defense, and stand by you every step of the process. Contact us today to get the legal assitance you need.


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