If you were recently arrested and charged with a criminal offense for the first time, you are undoubtedly feeling worried and likely confused. The criminal justice system can be difficult to navigate, even for those who are familiar with it. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side is the key to successfully navigating the obstacles and pitfalls of the criminal justice system. Whether you actually committed the offense for which you have been charged or not, one of your primary concerns at this point is developing a defense strategy that will (hopefully) prevent a conviction. Having never been accused of a crime before, you may be wondering “How do criminal defense attorneys develop a defense strategy?” Because the facts and circumstances of every criminal prosecution are unique, only an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney can tell you what defense strategies might work in your case; however, understanding how defense attorneys evaluate a case and develop defense strategies in general may help you feel a bit less confused and better informed about your situation.
Does It Matter If You Are Guilty?
One of the first concerns people have when they are charged with a crime for the first time is whether or not they should tell their defense attorney the truth about their guilt or innocence. The best way to address that concern is to give you a few things to keep in mind. First, remember that the relationship you have with your attorney is covered by the “attorney-client” privilege, meaning anything you say to your attorney cannot be repeated and must be kept confidential. Second, your attorney will typically only ask you questions if the answers are relevant and necessary to your defense. In other words, be honest with your attorney when he/she asks you a question; however, if your attorney avoids a question there is likely a good reason for not asking it. Finally, your defense attorney’s job is not to prove your innocence. Your attorney’s job is to ensure that your rights are protected and that the State does not secure a conviction without meetings its burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, from a legal perspective it does not matter to your attorney whether you are guilty or not.
Reviewing the Investigation and Arrest Process for Errors
One of the first things a defense attorney will do is to review the actions of law enforcement officers leading up to your arrest to see if things were handled properly and legally. For example, let’s say you were arrested for driving under the influence, or DUI. Your attorney would look at the alleged reason why you were stopped in the first place to see if the stop was legal. Your attorney might also review the field sobriety tests to see if they were conducted properly as well as the breath test to determine if the machine was working properly and he officer administering it was properly trained. If an officer did anything wrong during the investigation or arrest your attorney may be able to get evidence excluded based on that wrongdoing.
Do You Have an Affirmative Defense?
An affirmative defense, in legal terminology is a defense in which the defendant introduces evidence, which, if found to be credible, will negate criminal or civil liability, even if it is proven that the defendant committed the alleged acts. In layman terms it is the “I did it but…” defense. Self-defense is a good example. If you claim self-defense you are essentially admitting that you technically committed the offense but that you have a legal excuse that prevents you from being convicted.
Can the State Meet Its Burden?
In a criminal prosecution the State of Nebraska, through the Prosecuting Attorney, has the burden to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To do this, the prosecutor must be able to prove each and every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Arguments have raged for centuries over the proper definition of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard; however, for now think of it as about 95-99 percent convinced of your guilt. When used properly, it is a difficult burden to meet. Your defense attorney will review the totality of the evidence the State has against you in an effort to determine if all the evidence put together is likely to meet that burden.