Directory of Criminal Defense Attorneys
At Lawyer Legion, we created a directory to rank the top criminal defense attorneys in each state, city, and county in the United States. Our directory includes criminal defense attorneys focused on cases in state court or federal court, defending cases at the trial or appellate level, and those fighting misdemeanor or more serious felony cases.
If you are accused of a crime, the good news is that most attorneys provide a free consultation to discuss the case. You should take advantage of that fact to visit with several different attorneys in your areas for a confidential meeting. During the initial meeting, you can discuss the facts of your case, the laws that might apply, and the best way to fight criminal charges that might be brought against you in court.
The criminal code encompasses many different philosophies. Some hold that it is a moral imperative for society to punish those who have done wrong or rehabilitate the person accused of the crime. Other philosophies have a more pragmatic approach - that the purpose behind a criminal code is to protect the victim in the case or the community.
A criminal accusation touches on some of the most important civil liberties in the United States. A criminal conviction can result in different penalties and punishments including the total loss of freedom that comes with incarceration.
Indirect consequences can include a criminal record that has the potential of haunting the person for the rest of his or her life. For that reason, a person accused of a crime has the right to remain silent, the right to a fair and speedy trial, and the right to be represented by a criminal defense attorney.
Use our online attorney directory to find a criminal defense attorney near you.
Criminal Law Information Center
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Rights of the Accused
A central tenet of our criminal justice system is that people who are accused of crimes are presumed innocent until proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be guilty. To ensure this, the Bill of Rights to the Constitution enshrined several enumerated rights people have. Over time, the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted and further defined those rights.
Those rights continue to evolve and, in some instances, devolve as the government develops and has access to new technology that may intrude on a person's privacy. Some of the most important rights include:
- Right Against Self-Incrimination: This is often called, more simply, the "Right to Remain Silent." It is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment. The government may not compel a person to say or do anything that essentially hands over evidence against himself or herself. This has far-reaching implications. It means, for example, that if the accused is a witness in any legal proceeding, he or she may decline to answer a question that would incriminate him or her, often called "pleading the Fifth." It also applies to when police are gathering evidence against the accused.
- Right to a Jury of Peers: The accused has a right for the verdict against him or her to be decided by an impartial jury of people from the community where he or she is accused of committing the crime. The number of jurors may vary, but must be at least six. For federal crimes, the jury must be unanimous in its decision. Most states have also incorporated this tenet of jury trials. This right is enumerated in the Sixth Amendment.
- Right to a Speedy, Public Trial: This Sixth Amendment enumerated right exists to ensure that the accused are not held indefinitely for alleged crimes and that they are not subjected to secret tribunals and "kangaroo courts" where their rights may be violated. This right has come under repeated attacks during the "War on Terror."
- Right Against Double Jeopardy: This right means a defendant cannot face trial twice for the same alleged crime. The right attaches or becomes effective after the first witness is sworn in.
- Right to an Attorney: The accused has a right to effective counsel, who may advise him or her on the consequences of all decisions when accused of a crime."Effective counsel" is a frequently litigated issue with a definition that continually changes.
Some of these rights, namely the right against self-incrimination and the right to an attorney, must be read to people who are arrested under the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona. These are often called the "Miranda Rights," and reading them is sometimes called "Mirandizing the suspect."
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The prosecution must prove every element of their case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond reasonable doubt does not mean that prosecution must disprove every scenario that could have possibly occurred. It means that the prosecutor must create sufficient certainty in the minds of the jury that the accused did what the government is accusing him or her or doing.
The burden of proof is entirely on the prosecution. The only time the defendant must prove anything is if he or she makes an affirmative defense, meaning he or she is saying he or she did the actions he or she is accused of, but there is a legal reason they should not be convicted of a crime. Affirmative defenses include self-defense, mental illness, and mental incapacity.
Prosecutors must prove every element of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, the defendant is accused of aggravated assault. In the jurisdiction he is accused in, aggravated assault is defined as knowingly, intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause serious bodily injury on another person.
The prosecutor must prove that the accused caused bodily injury, that the injury was serious, that another person suffered the injury, and that the accused did so knowingly, intentionally or recklessly. The prosecutor must prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, or the entire case fails.
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Parties in a Criminal Case
Parties in a criminal case include:
- Defendant: This is the person accused of the crime. The defendant may be charged with a crime by a grand jury indictment, by an information filed by a prosecutor or another method, depending on the jurisdiction. The defendant cannot be required to testify in his or her trial, and, in most cases, his or her attorney will advise against it.
- Defense Attorney: The defendant has a right to counsel, who will be his or her advocate in all matters in the accusation. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney in most charges, the court will appoint one for him or her. Many jurisdictions have a public defender's office.
- Attorney for the People: Under the legal system, the people are the government, and, therefore, the prosecutor is representing the people. The office of the prosecutor depends on the jurisdiction making the charges. If it's a federal crime, the prosecutor is the U.S. Attorney. For charges of violating state criminal statutes, it may be the state attorney, the district attorney or the county attorney. If the charge is in municipal court, the prosecutor may be a city attorney.
- Judge: The judge presides over the legal proceedings. He or she is not to make decisions on the verdict unless the defendant asks for a bench trial. The judge is supposed to be impartial.
- Jury: The jury is to be an impartial panel of community members, who are capable of following the law and reaching a just decision. Both the prosecutor and the defense have a hand in selecting the jury in a process called "voir dire."
Absent from this list is the victim. The prosecutor does represent the victim in criminal matters. However, if the defendant is convicted, certain jurisdictions allow the victim to make a statement during sentencing proceedings.
The term "criminal justice attorney" applies to all of the attorneys within the criminal justice system including the attorneys that work for the prosecutor's office, the public defender's office, criminal defense attorneys in private practice, attorneys in law enforcement agencies and probation offices.
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Types of Offenses
States have the power to write their own criminal statutes, so laws vary from state to state. Common offenses include:
- DUI / DWI / Drunk Driving: In every state, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The general standard for intoxication is a blood-alcohol content of .08. In all states, the law prohibits driving under the influence of drugs.
Find a DUI defense lawyer.
- Marijuana Defense: States have varying laws on cannabis, but it is still illegal, at least to some degree, in most states to possess, sell, grow or traffick marijuana. Some states have legalized and regulated the possession, sale, delivery, and cultivation of pot or weed for medicinal or recreational purposes. However, even the possession of marijuana remains a federal crime.
Find a marijuana defense lawyer.
- Drug Crimes: The federal government and states have identified several "controlled substances," including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and prescription drugs. The possession, sale, manufacture or trafficking of narcotics is illegal, often with harsh penalties.
Find a drug defense lawyer.
- Domestic Violence: While a wide range of violent crimes is illegal, penalties are often especially harsh if the alleged crime happened against a member of the defendant's family. Domestic violence charges are often accompanied by a protective order or restraining order.
Find a domestic violence defense lawyer.
- Sex Crimes: Sex crimes include rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, prostitution, indecent exposure, public lewdness and more. Every state has some sort of sex offender registry. Conviction of a sex crime often carries a significant stigma.
Find a sex crime defense lawyer.
- Theft Crimes: All jurisdictions have crimes prohibiting the unconsented taking of property, or the damaging or defacing or property. The severity of the punishment usually depends on the value of the property stolen or damaged.
Find a theft defense lawyer.
- White Collar Crimes: White collar crimes generally involve theft by some kind of deception. They could include mail fraud, insurance fraud, credit card fraud and worthless checks.
Find a white collar crime defense lawyer.
- Firearm and Weapons Charges: Despite the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms, many states and the federal government have regulations surrounding guns and weapons, often with criminal penalties. These may pertain to the type of weapon possessed or sold, where the weapon is possessed, who is possessing the weapon or who the weapon is being sold to.
Find a firearm and weapon defense lawyer.
- Probation Violations: If a person is convicted of a crime, that person is sentenced. However, they may be released from a prison sentence on probation. If the terms of that probation are allegedly violated, that person may face a separate crime.
Find a probation violation defense lawyer.
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Criminal Procedural Issues
The different procedures used in criminal cases have a huge impact on the way the case is decided including:
- Federal Crimes: While most criminal proceedings occur in state courts, defendants accused of federal crimes appear in U.S. District Courts. Common federal crimes include drug trafficking and mail fraud.
Find a federal criminal defense lawyer.
- Criminal Appellate Law: Certain legal decisions, often made by the judge, can be appealed in higher appellate courts. These courts do not decide guilt or innocence, but rather whether there was a mistake in interpreting the law.
Find a criminal appellate lawyer.
- Sealing or Expunging a Criminal Record: Certain jurisdictions allow certain records, including convictions and arrest records, to be made so they are no longer public.
Find a lawyer for sealing or expunging criminal records.
- Juvenile Justice System: Minors are usually treated differently than adults when charged with a crime. In most jurisdictions, charges against juveniles are held in a different court setting.
Find a juvenile defense lawyer.
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Criminal Defense Organizations
Attorneys who practice criminal defense can keep up to date with the legal field and improve their skills by joining an organization. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers offers continuing legal education (CLE) seminars. regular publications with news and updates about criminal law, and other tools and resources.
Criminal defense attorneys can also join one of NADCL's many state affiliates or local criminal defense attorney organizations for updates and education on state law and procedure.
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Criminal Specialty Certifications
Many lawyers act exclusively as criminal defense lawyers. However, in most states, attorneys may become board-certified, meaning they meet certain requirements that designate them as specialists in criminal law.
An organization, either private or state-sanctioned, may certify attorneys as criminal defense specialists. Some of those organizations include:
- National Board of Legal Specialty Certification: This national organization is accredited by the American Bar Association to certify lawyers in criminal trial advocacy. The attorney must have participated in 45 days of trial and at least 100 contested matters, among other requirements.
Find a nationally certified criminal law attorney.
- National College of DUI Defense, Inc.: The NCDD is accredited by the American Bar Association to certify lawyers in defense against drunk driving charges.
Find a nationally certified DUI defense lawyer.
- State Bar of Arizona Board of Legal Specialization: Attorneys in Arizona may become certified in criminal law by the State Bar. To become certified in this category, the attorney must show 50 to 70 percent of their practice is in criminal law, meet certain experience requirements, and pass an exam.
Find a certified criminal law attorney in Arizona.
- State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization: California attorneys may become certified in criminal law by the State Bar. Attorneys must have practice for five years, dedicate at least 25 percent of their practice to criminal defense, pass an exam and meet other requirements.
Find a certified criminal law attorney in California.
- Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and Education: To become board-certified in criminal trial law, Florida lawyers must attain the minimum experience and education, and pass an exam. The attorney may also become certified in criminal appellate law.
Find a certified criminal trial attorney in Florida.
Find a certified criminal appellate lawyer in Florida.
- Minnesota State Bar Association: The MSBA is accredited in Minnesota to certify lawyers as criminal defense specialists. Attorneys must show substantial involvement, pass an exam, meet certain experience requirements and fulfill other requirements.
Find a certified criminal law attorney in Minnesota.
- New Jersey Board on Attorney Certification: New Jersey lawyers may seek certification from the Board on Attorney Certification as criminal trial specialists. Attorneys must show substantial involvement, provide references, have experience and pass a test.
Find a certified criminal trial attorney in New Jersey.
- New Mexico Board of Legal Specialization: Attorneys in New Mexico may be certified by the Board of Legal Specialization. There are requirements of involvement in criminal practice, experience requirements, and the lawyer must pass a test.
Find a certified criminal law trial specialist in New Mexico.
- North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization: In North Carolina, criminal defense attorneys may become certified in both federal and state law. They must meet stringent requirements for experience and education and pass a written test.
Find a certified state criminal law attorney in North Carolina.
Find a certified federal criminal law attorney in North Carolina.
- Texas Board of Legal Specialization: Texas attorneys may be certified by TBLS as specialists in both criminal law and criminal appellate law. To be certified, lawyers must show substantial involvement and experience, provide attorney references and pass an exam.
Find a certified criminal law attorney in Texas.
Find a certified criminal appellate lawyer in Texas.
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Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer
It is wise to obtain a defense lawyer as soon as possible when accused of a crime. In fact, if a person discovers he or she is being investigated for a crime but has not been arrested, it is a smart move to immediately retain counsel. However, most people accused will not have that opportunity. If arrested, a suspect should not answer questions without a lawyer present. If a suspect asks for a lawyer, police officers must cease interrogation.
It is important to carefully select an attorney. An attorney who has earned board certification has met stringent criteria as an experienced advocate. An attorney who is a member of a criminal defense professional organization has likely attended continuing legal education seminars and has access to resources and publications that keep him or her up to date on current criminal law and procedures.
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Criminal Law Resources
Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy - A think tank housed in the University of California - Berkeley School of Law, the Warren Institute produces research and ideas that pertain to criminal justice, among other legal issues.
ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project - This division of the American Civil Liberties Union focuses on ending policies that lead to mass incarceration in the United States.
The Sentencing Project: This national organization seeks reform to the way those convicted are sentenced, including reducing incarceration rates and incarceration racial disparity and re-enfranchising those convicted of felonies.
Finding the Right Criminal Defense Lawyers
What does a criminal defense lawyer do? Criminal defense attorneys represent people accused of a crime at all stages of a criminal investigation or prosecution. Private attorneys charge a fee for their services. For people who are indigent and unable to afford to hire a private attorney, the court might appoint a public defender.
At Lawyer Legion, we understand the importance of finding the right criminal defense lawyer for your particular case. We created our online attorney directory for criminal defense attorneys around factors that really matter like membership in specialty bar associations and participation in specialty certification programs.
When choosing a criminal defense, look for a local attorney experienced in handling your particular kind of case. Use our directory to research different attorneys that might be right for your case.
This article was last updated on Wednesday, February 19, 2020.