What Role Does a Defense Lawyer Play in a Criminal Case?

Put simply, as a criminal justice attorney, I help ordinary people navigate the often confusing and intimidating criminal justice system in Denver and surrounding areas.

But what are the specific duties and services a criminal justice attorney like me provides for his or her clients? Here I’ll outline what you should expect from a capable attorney throughout the entire process of a case—before, during, and after a trial.

Why Hire a Defense Attorney?

The courts do allow you to represent yourself, but in the majority of criminal trials, doing so would be inadvisable. Why? Because the Colorado criminal justice system is complicated, with laws, codes, and rulings from both state and federal levels all playing a role. It would be nearly impossible for the average American to gain the in-depth understanding of the law they need to adequately defend themselves simply by studying up after being charged – it’s something that takes years of dedication.

Unfortunately, our courts typically do not accept ignorance of the legal system as an adequate criminal defense. Even worse, the potential punishments for most crimes are severe, and failing to prepare an expert legal defense leaves you vulnerable to higher fines and longer jail times.

Criminal defense attorneys are often able to earn their clients reduced sentences, or even have the case dropped entirely due to their knowledge of the law, proper procedure, and your rights. A criminal justice lawyer is often the only thing standing between a defendant and the powerful system of law enforcement, judges, and government prosecution.

During the Pre-Trial Stage

Denver Criminal Defense Lawyer


Criminal defense attorneys don’t just represent their clients in a court of law. They also provide expert legal counsel before the trial begins. A defense attorney can be contacted as soon as you enter police custody, or even earlier if an individual has reason to suspect they are under investigation for a crime.

Being questioned by law enforcement is a critical time in the defense process. As the famous Miranda Rights state, “anything you say can and will be used you in a court of law.” Miranda also asserts that you have a constitutional right to have an attorney present while being questioned by the police. Your lawyer will advise you on how to avoid incriminating yourself, which will have a significant impact on the outcome of your trial.

A defense attorney can also argue that your case should be dropped for improper procedure or insufficient evidence. For example, in most cases a police officer needs to have probable cause before making an arrest. Your attorney should have a highly developed and nuanced knowledge of what constitutes probable cause as defined in your jurisdiction. If your attorney can show that an officer failed to establish adequate probable cause before beginning an investigation or making an arrest, he or she may be able to get your case thrown out before a trial even begins.

Your attorney can also help you while you are incarcerated. After an arrest, you may be held in police custody while awaiting trial. In the majority of situations, you can be released as long as you pay bail.  A criminal defense attorney may be able to convince the court to lower your bail—or have it waived entirely.

It’s possible that, with all the compelling evidence against you, you are more or less certain you will be found guilty—for example, if you were arrested while in the process of committing a crime. If this is the case, it may be better to enter a plea bargain with the prosecution, rather than allowing your case to go to trial.

A plea bargain is essentially an agreement that you will plead guilty or no contest to a crime in exchange for a reduced punishment or lesser charge. A criminal defense lawyer is essential in this situation too. They can negotiate with the prosecution to reach a much more favorable result. After years in the criminal justice system, experienced defense attorneys often build a rapport with prosecutors that works in the favor of their clients.

For example, if you were facing theft or burglary charges, your attorney might be able to negotiate with the prosecution in order to reduce your charges to trespassing if you plead guilty. If you were charged with a DUI, your attorney might be able to reduce your charges to a reckless driving offense.

During the Trial

If your case does eventually go to trial, your attorney will collaborate with you to help build an effective defense strategy. You’ll discuss the evidence against you and how you should plead in order to ensure the best possible outcome.

Your lawyer will also represent you in court when your trial date arrives. From jury selection to making opening and closing statements to examining witnesses, your criminal defense attorney will execute the defense strategy you’ve crafted beforehand, complying with the standards of courtroom conduct. This last part is incredibly important, because even a small mistake in trial procedure can severely damage your case.

After the Trial 

Criminal Defense Attorney Denver

After your trial is over, your attorney will likely be able to answer any questions you have about what happens next. He or she should be able to explain the terms of your sentence, if you have one, and tell you how the process works if you win the case and face no penalties. If you are not happy with the results of your trial, you can speak to your attorney about appealing your ruling.

An experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney is the best way to avoid criminal convictions, stiff fines, and long periods of incarceration. If you’ve been charge with a crime, contact us today.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.