Searching for the perfect federal criminal defense attorney to represent you (or a family member) at trial can be an exercise in frustration. There may seem to be many apparently qualified lawyers are out there. But without deep knowledge about the background of prospective attorneys, how can you make a good decision about who should represent you?
Here is some advice to ground you: Choose an attorney with jury trial experience.
1. More plea bargaining power.
Prosecutors have long memories. They personally know many of the federal criminal defense attorneys they will be squaring off against. Prosecutors fear going against experienced Federal trial lawyers because these attorneys can use their skills to make trials long, expensive, and complicated for them. Conversely, if prosecutors face defense attorneys with little to no Federal trial experience, they might be far more willing to take the battle to court.
In other words, working with an experienced trial attorney will — ironically — lead to smaller chance that you will actually go to trial! Rather than face off against experienced foes, prosecutors may be willing to “plea bargain” down your charges, for instance.
2. Experienced jury trial attorneys have skills communicating with judges and juries.
An experienced trial attorney knows what to say to juries and judges — and, perhaps even more importantly, knows what NOT to say to them! If your lawyer had never gone to trial — or has only rarely been in court — there’s no way he’ll have enough experience with this kind of fragile and nuanced communication to get good results.
3. An experienced defense attorney knows the rules and procedures.
A jury trial is like a dance. There is a rhythm to it. Both unstated and stated rules of protocol apply. At the risk of being redundant… you can spend decades studying the formalities of jury trial defense, but until you’ve put theory into practice, you can’t provide best service.
For example, consider the art of cooking. Would you rather have a meal prepared for you by a chef who memorized a cookbook or a chef who spent five years in charge of a kitchen at a three-star Michelin restaurant?
4. An experienced attorney understands both the art and science of trial defense.
To master the game of jury persuasion, you need skills in a variety of arenas, including cross examination, jury selection, evidence presentation, redirects, opening and closing arguments, rebuttals, rules and procedures, and so forth. In some ways, a federal criminal defense attorney is only as good as the weakest link in his skill set. The only way for an attorney to find out where his true strengths and weaknesses lie is for him to go through the process many times. So, the question is, do you want to be a test case for a relatively green lawyer, or do you want an experienced old hand to guide you to your best possible defense?