Just The Facts: The Responsibilities Of A Criminal Defense Lawyer Explained

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Are you facing criminal charges in the Chicago area? At the Law Offices of Michael P. Schmiege, our founding attorney has years of experience in protecting the rights of people who have been accused of DUI, drug crimes, violent crimes, theft, white collar crimes, arson, armed robbery, criminal appeals, sex crimes, and more.

The most prevailing myth about criminal law and criminal defense law firms is that opinions come into play. That is simply not true. In fact, it's the opposite. Criminal defense attorneys look at the facts as objectively as possible, and use facts only to build a case in a court of law.

What Exactly Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

If an arrest occurs, that person will be read his or her Miranda Rights, and that is generally the first mention of rights and an attorney. It is not as simple as selecting a criminal defense lawyer and calling it a day. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.

Some of the key responsibilities of criminal defense law firms is to select and examine witnesses, gather evidence, assess and anticipate the prosecutor's case, and review all relevant documentation. Criminal defense attorneys will also put together a defense, settlement agreement, or plea agreement. The attorney will do his or her best to predict how the judge and jury will rule, and secure the best possible outcome for clients using this information.

What Are Some Examples From High-Profile Cases?

Now that you understand the basics of what criminal defense law firms do, what does this look like in practice? Let's take a look at a few high-profile cases to get a better idea.

  • Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter

This particular case raked in national headlines. Michelle Carter exchanged several texts with boyfriend Conrad Roy III before he took his own life in 2014. The court convicted her of involuntary manslaughter three years later in 2017. Carter was sentenced to 15 months in prison, with the remainder of her sentence suspended. The suspension of part of her sentence was likely due to key facts pointed out by the defense. Namely, that Carter did not come into physical contact with or meet Roy in person, and that there is no physical evidence that she told him to get back into his truck, where he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Rather, Carter told a friend in a text exchange that she had said it. Carter had a history of embellishing stories and stretching facts for attention. Without a direct text to Roy confirming this, it comes into question.

Even so, Carter's defense attorney Joseph Cataldo continues to fight on Carter's behalf, with plans to appeal the U.S. Supreme Court. Cataldo cites a troubling lack of legal precedent in the case. "It is never in society's best interest to incarcerate anyone for the content of their speech where there is not a specific statute previously enacted," Cataldo told ABC News.

  • People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson (The OJ Simpson Trial Case)

Years later, people are still divided about the outcome of the OJ Simpson Trial Case. His legal team successfully created reasonable doubt. The criminal defense law firms working on his behalf pointed out discrepancies in the alleged timeline of the crime, as well as "sloppy" police work that contaminated and called into doubt key evidence.

No matter what your personal opinions on the OJ Simpson Trial may be, his defense lawyers remained objective and helped reinforce the careful handling of evidence. His team made it clear that evidence cannot be tampered with or carelessly collected and still hold up in a court of law.

Criminal defense attorneys undertake a number of different job responsibilities, from conducting investigations, interviewing witnesses, reviewing legislation and legal statues, and more. In the Carter case, her attorney continues to argue that there is nothing illegal about Carter's actions according to current laws. The OJ Simpson Trial Case urged police departments and criminal investigation units to handle all evidence with extreme care.