If you've been charged with a crime in SC, the first thing that you need to do is get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. If you have never needed a criminal defense lawyer before (or maybe even if you've had criminal defense lawyers before), you might be wondering, "What does a criminal defense lawyer do?"
From the initial meeting with your attorney through the end of your legal proceedings, there is a lot that happens - some of which you will see and some of which happens "behind the scenes."
Keeping in mind that every case is different, below we will look at what a criminal defense attorney does in SC, including:
- The goals of representation in a criminal case;
- Investigation and preparation;
- Guilty pleas; and
Not only is every case different, but many criminal defense attorneys are different. Some have a more laid-back approach to representing criminal defendants, while others may be more aggressive. Some attorneys may incorporate some of what we discuss below, and others may have a completely different approach.
Keeping all of this in mind, let's try to answer the question - what does a criminal defense lawyer do in SC?
What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do in SC?
First, it's worthwhile to talk about what a criminal defense lawyer does not do. For example, your attorney will not:
- Assist in covering up a crime;
- Assist or advise in planning a future crime;
- Purposefully hurt witnesses or other persons involved in your case if it is unnecessary; or
- Violate any laws or the ethics rules that govern lawyers in the state of SC.
Although some people see defense lawyers as a "hired gun" who does the bidding of their criminal clients - point and click - for the most part, that is a myth. Criminal defense lawyers in SC, even more so than other types of attorneys, usually have a specific goal that they want to achieve.
What is a Criminal Defense Lawyer's Job?
The goal of an attorney's representation is set by the client, after consultation with the attorney.
When our client is charged with a crime, however, our goal is to win your case using every means legally and ethically possible.
What does that mean? It means that our job is to win your case, we will use every tool at our disposal to make that happen, but we cannot break the law or violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.
What if your goal is just to stay out of jail? To get a probationary sentence or to pay a fine?
That's okay, and it may be reasonable under the circumstances. Before we advise you to accept a guilty plea, however, we must investigate, research, and either get your case dismissed or be prepared to advise you as to what the evidence will look like at trial before you decide.
Other Roles that a Criminal Defense Lawyer Plays
A criminal defense attorney may need to "wear different hats" depending on the case and the client's situation. For example:
- Counselor at Law: If you are charged with a crime in SC, you most likely have a lot of questions about what the law is and how it applies to the facts of your case - our job is to answer those questions so that every decision you make is fully informed.
- Mediator: Some criminal cases arise from disputes that could be resolved without a trial or criminal conviction. When this is the case, a dismissal or alternative resolution may require mediating between you, any alleged victims, the prosecutor, law enforcement, or other interested parties.
- Facilitator: Your criminal defense lawyer can advise you as to what actions you should take to help yourself in your case, and connect you with the right person, expert, government agency, treatment facility, or other resource that can help us to accomplish our goals in your case.
- Trial Lawyer: When all else fails, a jury trial may be our client's last and only option. Your defense attorney needs to be prepared, willing, and able to effectively try your case to a jury when necessary.
What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do in SC Before Trial?
The process of getting your case dismissed, finding the best possible outcome, or preparing your case for trial begins immediately after we are retained on a case.
Independent Defense Investigations
Whether your case ends in a dismissal, an alternative resolution, a guilty plea, or a trial, it begins with investigation and preparation for trial. We get all evidence from the prosecutor, and then file motions asking the court to force them to turn over any evidence that they are holding back.
Depending on the facts of your case, we may need to employ a private investigator to track down and interview witnesses or to gather information that is critical to getting your case dismissed or impeaching critical witnesses at your trial.
There may be restitution that needs to be paid in your case - in some cases, this can result in a dismissal although it must be done through your attorney and through the prosecutor's office (if you attempt to give money to an alleged victim in your case you are risking new criminal charges for obstruction of justice or compounding a felony).
Other information that may be critical to your case can be gathered through motion practice, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, witness interviews, or through conversations with police or other government agencies.
Not every case needs an expert witness. When it is needed, however, we assist our clients in finding the right experts for consultation or testimony about:
- Crime scene analysis;
- Medical testimony;
- Forensic evaluations; or
- Any other issue that is scientific, complex, or would require expert testimony to counter the state's evidence or to explain a complex issue to the court or jurors.
Using all information available from the state's evidence, police reports, and our own investigation, we must spot legal issues, research those issues, and brief them in preparation for arguing motions to dismiss your case or motions to suppress evidence at your trial.
Pretrial motions can result in:
- Dismissal by your prosecutor before trial;
- Dismissal by the court before trial;
- Suppression of key evidence or statements at trial; or
- Reversal on appeal when the court gets it wrong.
Dismissal, Pretrial Diversion, or Other Alternative Resolutions
At any point before the trial of your case, your prosecutor may decide to dismiss your case or allow you into a pretrial diversion program if you qualify.
Often, the prosecutor's decision as to whether and how to proceed in your case may be informed by your attorney's investigation, mitigation that your attorney has presented to the prosecutor, or the strength of the prosecutor's case.
If dismissal, pretrial diversion, or another creative solution are not possible, at some point you will need to decide whether you will accept a plea offer (that will likely depend on what the plea offer is) or go to trial.
Plea or Trial?
Once you receive a plea offer from the state, your attorney must be able to go over the evidence in your case with you, including any pretrial motions you will file, which witnesses are likely to testify, and what evidence will be admissible at your trial.
If your case has reached this stage, you now face a decision - plea or trial? If the state makes "an offer you can't refuse," this may be an easy decision. On the other hand, if the state makes an offer you will not accept under any circumstances, you must be willing to take your case to trial.
Criminal Trial Practice
Most criminal cases in SC end in dismissals, alternative resolutions, or guilty pleas. When your case goes to trial, however, it usually means that your freedom is on the line - if you lose your trial, life as you know it may end and it will have consequences for your family and other people in your life.
Possibly the most important thing that criminal defense lawyers do in SC is try criminal cases to juries - if your case goes to trial, you will need an experienced criminal defense trial lawyer on your side who knows your case and how to present your story to a jury.
What does a criminal defense lawyer do in SC?
Your Myrtle Beach criminal defense attorney on the Axelrod team will do everything legally ethically possible to win your case by getting it dismissed, finding an alternative to conviction, negotiating the best possible resolution that you can agree with, or taking your case to trial.