Those who are charged with a criminal offense are more likely to obtain a more favorable outcome if they are actively involved with their defense. This is true with most legal matters, but particularly so in criminal defense matters. The better informed the defendant is about how he or she can assist the lawyer, the more he or she can provide the information needed to present a solid defense.
After a person is charged with one or more criminal offenses and selects defense counsel, he or she will have a consultation with the defense lawyer. A top Peoria IL defense lawyer will review with the defendant the charges that are alleged to have been committed by the defendant. At this point, it is important for the defendant to ask the defense lawyer what must be proved by the State’s prosecutor in order to obtain a guilty verdict. Each criminal offense normally has a number of elements that must be proved by the State beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendant. Knowing what these elements are will enable the defendant to establish whether or not he or she is guilty of the offense charged.
Another important series of questions to ask defense counsel surrounds the circumstances of the defendant’s arrest, and the seizure of any evidence by the police. If the apprehension of the defendant, or of any evidence meant to be used by the State was illegally obtained, the defendant can question defense counsel about the legality of the arrest and the seizure of any evidence. Was there probable cause to stop the defendant and to search his car, his belongings, his home, or where he or she was staying at the time the defendant was stopped. It’s important for the defendant to ask the defense lawyer if any of the actions taken by the police were illegal. If so, the arrest of the defendant can be quashed, or some of all of the evidence can be suppressed. If material evidence relied upon by the State to prove its case is ruled inadmissible, then the defendant can make a motion to dismiss the case.
If the defendant gave an self-incriminating statement to the police, the defendant should describe to defense counsel how the statement was obtained. An important question is to ask defense counsel is what is needed to show that a statement was not voluntarily given, but instead was given under duress or coercion. A defendant should ask the defense attorney how he or she can have the incriminating statement ruled as inadmissible.
Once the defendant knows the material elements of the offenses with which he or she is charged, and assuming that the arrest and seizure of the evidence was legal, an important question to ask defense counsel is what type of defenses are available that can defeat or mitigate the gravity of the charges. For example, self defense is a suitable defense to a charge of battery or more serious charges that result in physical harm to the alleged victim. There may be other defenses to the allegations facing the defendant. The defendant should ask what defenses are available to see if any would fit the facts of the case in which he or she is involved.
If it appears that the defendant’s case is headed toward a trial, an important question to ask defense counsel is what evidence does the State possess that could result in a conviction. What witnesses will the State call to testify against the defendant? Do any of the witnesses have a bias against the defendant to the point that he or she would testify falsely against the defendant? What are the various ways in which a witnesses’ credibility can be challenged is an important question.
If before the case heads to trial the parties seek to engage in plea negotiations, an important question to ask defense counsel is what are the possible sentences. What are the consequences if the defendant pleads to a lesser offense? The defendant should ask defense counsel for specific ideas of what pleading guilty to any offense will result in terms of incarceration, court fines, and probation. Again, the more and better informed a defendant is, the more he or she is able to assist defense counsel.
Thanks to our friends and contributors for Smith & Weer, P.C. for their insight in criminal defense practice.