How Do Lawyers Defend Criminals?

As a Washington state criminal defense attorney, the most common question I get is, “How do you defend a criminal?” This question is generally based on two assumptions: 1. The defendant is clearly guilty; 2. By defending him or her, you are trying to make The apparently guilty man is getting away with it. As you will see, these assumptions proved to be incorrect.

Arrest does not equal guilt

It is easy to assume that the defendant must be guilty because the police arrested him or her for something. But the law has very different standards for judging when an arrest is valid versus when a conviction is required.

An effective arrest requires probable cause. The term has different definitions, but generally exists when the facts and circumstances known to the arresting officer are sufficient to convince a reasonable person that a crime has been committed. If you think about that definition, it’s actually a pretty low standard; it should be.

The rule aims to ensure there is some evidence before an arrest, but balances the strength of evidence requirements with the speed of decision-making needed to catch a criminal.

Example: A woman tells the police that a man stole her purse. Police questioned the man, who denied knowing anything about the wallet. Finally, the wallet was not found. Based on probable cause, there was reason enough to arrest the man because the woman said he stole her purse. Do we know if he did? No, should we let the court system decide if this person is guilty? certainly!

Knowing that arrests are only the beginning of the court process, officials often make mistakes and prefer to make arrests on the nick of time; they should. Even the instructions read to jurors emphasized this point, stating that the fact that a defendant was arrested has no bearing on whether he or she committed the crime charged.

beyond reasonable doubt

We’ve all heard it on TV, but the standard in criminal cases is “beyond reasonable doubt.” But what does this mean? The term “reasonable doubt” can have different definitions, but generally it is:

A reason why there is a reason may come from evidence or lack of evidence. This is the question a reasonable person would have after full, fair, and careful consideration of all the evidence, or lack thereof.

If we required officers to be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt before arresting someone, all the “bad guys” would run away before the officers concluded their investigation.

What would you do if someone was guilty?

If someone is guilty, there is nothing a lawyer can do about it.please remember

The jury is made up of ordinary people. No matter how skilled the lawyer is, if the defendant is clearly guilty, the jury will convict. In this case, the lawyer’s job is twofold: discovering what crimes the defendant is actually guilty of and making sure the sentence is sound.


People are often over-charged, that is, charged with more crimes than the state can prove. An example of this is someone being charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and reckless driving. Very few cases of DUI also meet the criteria required for reckless driving. In this case, if the defendant is guilty of DUI but not reckless driving, a good criminal defense attorney should be able to drop the reckless driving charge even if the defendant is eventually convicted of DUI.

rational sentencing

Once the defendant is found guilty, the next step for the court is to sentence. It becomes the lawyer’s job to ensure that the sentence is appropriate for the alleged crime and the defendant’s criminal history. As a general rule, the more criminal convictions someone has, the harsher sentences they will receive on any new charges. Sometimes, however, prosecutors try to punish those with little or no history like career felons. By giving equal sentences to first-time offenders and career criminals, we are not rewarding those who basically live a good life and punishing those who choose a life of crime harshly enough.

What if the state cannot prove the allegations?

There are two main categories of cases where the prosecution fails to prove its case at the outset or at trial.

at first

Many times, the prosecution simply does not have any evidence to convict the accused. In this case, you can file a motion to dismiss and ask the judge to review the evidence to determine whether a dismissal is warranted. The motion can call for witnesses to testify, or it can be based on the police report itself.

in trial

If the prosecution has evidence that someone is guilty, the matter is not over. How strong is this evidence? Are the witnesses credible? Do they have a grudge against the accused? At the heart of our judicial system is the jury trial. The trial is actually the first time anyone has heard all the evidence. Trials can be stressful, but when they are close, they can save lives.

Technical Details and Legal

I often hear people say that the defendant got out of the car because of some technical problem. There are no “technicals” in law, only law. Should it apply to everyone or should we allow government to run free of the law? If police have broken the law, remedies can range from suppressing evidence to dropping the case entirely.

The court system is our best attempt at creating a fair process. However, like any system, it’s only as good as the people who work in it. Defending someone accused of a crime is not about “helping them get away with it,” it’s about making sure everyone is treated fairly. At The Cahoon Law Firm, we remain focused on one client at a time and ensure that all legal defenses and rights of our clients are employed and protected.

Copyright (c) 2007 – The Cahoon Law Firm – All Rights Reserved.

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