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Criminal Defense Lawyers in California

Lawyer Legion Criminal Defense Information Center of California

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Criminal Defense Lawyers by County


Best Criminal Defense Attorneys in California

Lawyer Legion Top Picks for 2024

Lawyer Legion created this list of the top picks in 2024 for the best criminal defense attorneys in California. To rank the top criminal defense attorneys, DUI defense attorneys, and other lawyers in California, we used both objective and subjective criteria.

The top criminal defense attorneys were selected based on their career accomplishments, success in high profile cases, professional involvement, community leadership, and board certification.

This list represents some of the most highly accomplished criminal defense lawyers currently practicing in California. When reviewing this list, please be aware of each of the following:

  • Lawyers cannot pay to be included in this list.
  • Only lawyers who are active on Lawyer Legion were selected.
  • No online directory can accurately determine a statewide list of attorneys who are actually “the best” at practicing criminal law (but our list comes close).
David Jean Kaloyanides
Criminal Defense Lawyer
Long Beach, CA
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Michael L Crowley
Criminal Defense Lawyer
San Diego, CA
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Philip David Israels
Criminal Defense Lawyer
Santa Monica, CA
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Harland William Braun
Criminal Defense Lawyer
Los Angeles, CA
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Graham D Donath
Criminal Defense Lawyer
Riverside, CA
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Ray Buenaventura
Criminal Defense Lawyer
San Francisco, CA
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Jeffrey Brett Hayden
Criminal Defense Lawyer
Redwood City, CA
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Kurt David Hermansen
Criminal Defense Lawyer
San Diego, CA
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Christopher Francis Morales
Criminal Defense and DUI / DWI Lawyer
San Francisco, CA
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More Noteworthy California Attorneys

California Legal Resources

Helpful Videos

Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Daniel R. Perlman on Fox News

Best Criminal Defense Attorney Representation

Criminal Defense Bar Associations and Legal Organizations

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) - Founded in 1958, NACDL is the largest organization for criminal defense lawyers fighting to preserve fairness within America's criminal justice system. The organization has more than 10,000 direct members including criminal defense attorneys in private practice, public defenders in state or federal court, U.S. military defense counsel, law professors and judges.
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) - The California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) was formed in 1973 and is the country's largest statewide organization of criminal defense lawyers . The CACJ works to defend the rights and due process of the accused while providing quality continuing legal education to its members. Since strengthening its presence in the California State Capitol, CACJ provides the criminal defense bar with a more unified voice on legislative matters.
California DUI Lawyers Association (CDLA) - The California DUI Lawyers Association (CDLA) was founded in 1989. Attorneys in the CDLA promote the rights of the accused to encourage a fair criminal justice system with a focus on DUI charges. The CDLA uses its influence to advocate for legislative changes in the criminal justice system. The California DUI Lawyers Association (CDLA) is an affiliate of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA).
Criminal Defense Bar Association of San Diego (CDBA) - The Criminal Defense Bar Association of San Diego (CDBA) is a non-profit voluntary organization of criminal defense attorneys in the greater San Diego area of California. Members have access to the CDBA newsletters, a motion bank, and listserve.
Criminal Trial Lawyers Association of Northern California (CTLA-NC) - The Criminal Trial Lawyers Association of Northern California (CTLA-NC) is an esteemed legal organization dedicated to supporting criminal defense attorneys in the northern region of California. By fostering professional development, providing resources, and facilitating networking opportunities, CTLA-NC empowers its members to excel in representing clients facing criminal charges, thereby promoting justice.
Los Angeles Criminal Courts Bar Association (LACCBA) - The Los Angeles Criminal Courts Bar Association (LACCBA) is a prominent legal association focused on criminal defense practice within the Los Angeles County court system. Committed to advancing the skills and knowledge of its members, LACCBA offers valuable resources, educational programs, and a platform for legal professionals to collaborate and advocate for fair and effective criminal justice outcomes in Southern California.

Specialty Certifications in Criminal Law

Criminal Law Board Certification in California - In California, attorneys can become certified as a Criminal Law Specialist by the State Bar of California's Board of Legal Specialization (CBLS). Board-certified attorneys include criminal defense attorneys in private practice, public defenders, or prosecutors. These attorneys work within the criminal justice system at the local, state, or federal level.
Appellate Law Board Certification in California - Attorneys who are board certified in Appellate Law by The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization have demonstrated significant knowledge and experience in the areas of civil and criminal appeals. Lawyers represent people throughout the appellate law process in both state and federal appellate courts, including the California Court of Appeals, the Federal Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court, or the United States Supreme Court.
Criminal Trial Law Board Certification by the NBTA - The specialty area of Criminal Trial Law is offered by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) to lawyers. To earn NBTA board certification, the criminal defense attorney must show substantial involvement in at least 45 days of trial, must have served as lead counsel in jury cases through verdict; conducted direct examinations and cross-examinations, and conducted a specified number of voir dire, opening statements and closing arguments.
DUI Defense Law Board Certification by the NCDD - The National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD) is an organization that grants specialty or board certification for DUI Defense Law. The ABA has recognized the NCDD as an organization that is accredited to award certification in this specialty area of the law. The purpose of granting board certification in DUI Defense Law is to recognize DUI and DWI lawyers who focus their practice on representing men and women accused of drunk and impaired driving offenses. In order to qualify for board certification in "DUI Defense Law," the attorney must meet specific qualifications and apply for board certification with NCDD.

California Government and Court Resources

California Attorney General

California Attorney General - California's Office of the Attorney General was created in 1850. The Attorney General oversees lawyers, officers, investigators, and law enforcement agencies. The responsibilities and duties are detailed in California's Constitution and state government codes. Also, the Officer is the head of the Department of Justice. Under the state Constitution, some of the responsibilities include safeguarding the public from criminals, support criminal investigations, and much more. One of the missions of the Attorney General's Office is to enforce and apply all of California's laws fairly and impartially.

California Judicial Branch

California Judicial Branch - In 1926, the Judicial Branch was created by the constitutional amendment. The power to govern is divided into the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Additionally, the power of the judicial branch is given to the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeals, and superior courts. The judicial branch interprets the laws of the State of California, protects the rights of individuals, "provides for the orderly settlement of disputes between parties in controversy," and determines the guilt or innocence of those accused of violating the laws.

California Office of the State Public Defender

California Office of the State Public Defender - The Office of the Public Defender in California is a pivotal force for justice, providing expert legal representation to underserved individuals. With a dedicated team of defense attorneys, it ensures equitable trials and upholds the principle that quality legal advocacy is a fundamental right for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. By championing fairness, the office contributes significantly to the integrity of the legal system and the protection of constitutional rights.

California State Legislature

California State Legislature - The California State Assembly is the governing body responsible for making laws and overseeing the state's policies. It is a bicameral institution, comprising the State Assembly, which has 80 members serving two-year terms, and the State Senate, consisting of 40 members with four-year terms. The Legislature convenes to propose, debate, and pass legislation on a wide range of issues, including education, healthcare, transportation, and the state budget. Its primary duties involve crafting and passing laws that shape the governance and well-being of California.

Supreme Court of California

Supreme Court of California - California's Supreme Court is the state's highest court, consisting of one chief justice and six associate justices. The chief justice and the associate justices are appointed or nominated by the Governor. California's Constitution gives the Supreme Court of California jurisdiction in all cases imposing capital punishment within the state. It also has the authority to review decisions by the California Courts of Appeals and by the Public Utilities Commission (Cal. Const., art. VI, ยง 11). The court chooses cases that address legal matters that are significant and relevant in the state.

California Law Enforcement Agencies

California Highway Patrol - The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is a law enforcement agency responsible for ensuring safety on the state's highways and freeways. Established in 1929, the CHP serves as the primary agency for traffic enforcement and accident investigation. With a commitment to public service, the CHP promotes traffic safety, responds to emergencies, and offers various programs to educate and engage the community.

California Highway Patrol
601 North 7th Street,
Sacramento, CA 95811

Overview of California Criminal Law

At Lawyer Legion, we created this information center for topics related to criminal defense in the State of California.

To practice criminal defense in California, the attorney should understand every part of a criminal case from the initial investigation and arrest through the preliminary hearings, pretrial procedures, trial preparation, trial, sentencing, and post-trial remedies.

After law school, most criminal justice attorneys begin their practice by working for the local, state or federal government as a prosecutor or a public defender. Some attorneys start their careers in the private sector working for an experienced criminal defense attorney. 

Criminal defense attorneys learn more about the practice of law by joining specialty bar associations and other types of non-profit legal organizations focused on their specialty practice area. Attorneys also attend continuing legal education (CLE) seminars on criminal defense topics.

At the height of their career, criminal defense attorneys might begin the process to become board certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization.

Section 15 of the California Penal Code defines a "crime" as "an act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it, and to which is annexed, upon conviction, either of the following punishments: 1. Death; 2. Imprisonment; 3. Fine; 4. Removal from office; or, 5. Disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit in this State."

Under California law, the three categories of crime are distinguished by the severity of the statutory maximum penalty that can be imposed including an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony. 


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