How Criminal Defense Lawyers Choose a Strategy for a Client

Posted on: 2 November 2020

Criminal defense lawyers have to figure out which approach they're going to use for each case. A client rightly may wonder how their lawyer arrives at a strategy. Read on learn more about the process. 

Looking at the Prosecutor's Case

The prosecution has to present some sort of legal logic for why the defendant is guilty of a crime. Oftentimes, this dictates how criminal defense lawyers respond. For example, a prosecutor might present a gun case that hinges largely on evidence obtained directly from a weapon. Conversely, the defense might elect to ask questions about what ties the defendant to the gun and by extension the alleged crime. Frequently, lawyers will ask the court to throw evidence like this during the pre-trial phase. The goal in such a case is to gut the prosecution's argument and cause the case to collapse before it goes to trial.

Affirmative Defenses

Some cases aren't easily refuted based on how the evidence ties the defendant to the scene of a supposed offense. In these kinds of cases, one possible option is to present an affirmative defense. This is a defense that negates responsibility even if the prosecution can prove the defendant did whatever thing the case is about. A classic affirmative defense is self-defense. If someone fought back because they were afraid of being assaulted, the argument isn't that the defendant didn't hit the other party. Rather, the argument is that the defendant was acting within their right to self-defense.

Not a Crime

More nuanced defenses may develop from questioning whether the accusation is even credibly a crime. This can be challenging, though, because it requires the judge to go along with the argument. However, this sort of defense may keep a case from going to trial if the judge agrees. Even if that doesn't happen, it may set up a later appeal of a possible conviction.

Mistakes of Fact

When a prosecutor presents a case, they have to lay out what they believe are the facts. The law doesn't require the prosecution to get this 100% perfect, but the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard matters. Criminal defense lawyers will examine things like witness testimony, where the defendant was at the time, and video evidence in the hope of hollowing out the supposed facts of a prosecutor's case.

Several Defenses

Some criminal defenses are not mutually exclusive. A lawyer can, for example, attack the evidence in a case while also examining flaws in the legal logic of the prosecution. Generally, it's legal to present several defenses as long as one doesn't preclude the others.