What Does A Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Have you ever wondered about the role a criminal defense attorney plays within the American justice system? If you are facing criminal charges, your attorney becomes your main line of support, wielding an extensive knowledge of the law and a commitment to your rights. Their responsibilities range from advising on legal matters to representing you in court, providing a vital lifeline within the legal process. In this post, we are going to explore these varied roles, providing insight into what a defense attorney does when they are working towards the best possible outcome for their client.

The Roles of a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal defense lawyers take on a variety of roles to build a comprehensive defense strategy. This isn’t confined to courtroom representation but extends to being legal advisors, protectors of constitutional rights, investigators, strategists, negotiators, and advocates.


In the role of a legal advisor, defense attorneys interpret the difficult legal processes for their clients, offering advice about potential outcomes and the best course of action. They leverage their expansive knowledge of criminal law to break down complex legal terminology and procedures into understandable terms, ensuring clients are well-informed about their case.


As protectors of their clients’ constitutional rights, defense attorneys play a crucial role in maintaining the fairness of the judicial process. They remain vigilant against any breaches in legal standards and ensure their clients’ rights are not compromised, providing a shield of constitutional protection around each client.


Investigation is another important duty in the defense attorney’s playbook. An effective defense often hinges on the meticulous investigation of every detail, searching for inaccuracies or holes in the prosecution’s case. The insights gained from these investigations form the foundation for a robust defense strategy. This means our attorneys review all body camera footage in your case, any 911 calls, research to find similar cases that may have had a favorable outcome to a legal issue that exists in your case, request specific discovery requests that are not usually provided in discovery such as calibration documents of a breathalyzer or measurement certainty levels of blood results. In some cases, we may hire a private investigator to investigate and complete interviews of potential witnesses.


As strategists, defense attorneys consider all the gathered facts, evidence, and nuances of the case to craft an effective defense strategy tailored to their client’s unique situation. This involves navigating the law, exploiting weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and positioning the client’s defense to the best advantage.


Negotiation is a critical part of the defense attorney’s role. They aim to secure the best possible plea deals that could lead to reduced charges or sentencing, a crucial avenue for clients when faced with overwhelming evidence. Our attorneys have a history of successful negotiations with prosecutors across East Tennessee. Additionally, our attorneys have won awards for their negotiation skills such as partner Brandon D. Fersten being awarded the CALI Excellence of the Future Award in Negotiations.


Finally, defense attorneys serve as advocates, articulating their clients’ defense in a compelling and convincing manner. Their advocacy extends beyond presenting the case in court and involves liaising with various legal entities, always striving to secure the best possible outcome for their clients. In these varied and critical roles, a criminal defense attorney acts as a robust pillar of support for those facing the intimidating prospect of criminal charges.

Developing a Strong Defense Strategy

Crafting an effective defense strategy necessitates a deep understanding of the legal landscape, a keen awareness of the case’s specific circumstances, and a meticulous interpretation of gathered evidence. Our criminal defense lawyers at Barnes & Fersten excel in customizing defense strategies, fully aware that each case brings unique dynamics and challenges. Strategies might involve challenging the prosecution’s evidence, presenting an affirmative defense, or negotiating plea bargains.


Challenging the prosecution’s evidence is a common cornerstone in many defense strategies. For instance, consider a DUI case where the prosecution’s evidence hinges on the arresting officer’s observations and field sobriety tests. If our lawyers discover that the traffic stop leading to the arrest was initiated without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity—a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment—they can move to suppress all evidence gathered as a result of that stop. This could include observations of alleged impaired behavior and results from field sobriety tests, potentially undermining the prosecution’s case significantly and leading to the dismissal of the charges.


Moreover, crafting an affirmative defense or negotiating a plea deal can also form a significant part of the defense strategy. Affirmative defenses aim to provide context or additional information that may absolve the defendant or lessen their charges. For instance, in an assault case, our attorneys may argue self-defense if the evidence supports such a claim. In contrast, plea negotiations involve delicate discussions with the prosecution, where our attorneys, assessing the strength of the prosecution’s case and the client’s circumstances, may advise the client to plead guilty to a lesser charge for a more lenient sentence. Through these strategic maneuvers, Barnes & Fersten’s defense attorneys continually strive for the best possible outcomes for their clients.

Maintaining Effective Communication

Good communication between a lawyer and client is essential for a strong defense. A skilled criminal defense attorney understands that effective communication involves not just conveying information, but also actively listening to clients and responding to their concerns. Lawyers take the time to explain the legal process, potential outcomes, and legal strategies in a way that clients can understand, ensuring they feel informed and involved every step of the way.


A client’s insight can often be critical in a defense case. For example, if a client is charged with driving under the influence, the lawyer might discuss with the client about the circumstances of the traffic stop, their physical condition at the time, and any other factors that might affect the case. The client may reveal information that is pivotal to their defense, such as a medical condition that could have influenced their performance on a field sobriety test.


Moreover, ongoing, open communication allows the lawyer to keep the client informed about the progress of their case. This might involve discussing the results of pre-trial hearings, potential plea deal offers, or the likely outcomes of different defense strategies. At Barnes & Fersten, we believe that the client should be at the center of their defense, and we strive to facilitate effective communication to make this possible.

Investigating the Case Thoroughly

An exhaustive investigation is fundamental to building a robust defense strategy. An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows that understanding and scrutinizing every detail of the case, no matter how minor it may seem, can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal. As such, they commence with a thorough examination of the prosecution’s evidence, identifying any weaknesses, inaccuracies, or inconsistencies that could be leveraged in their client’s favor.


For example, in a DUI case, the prosecution’s evidence might include breathalyzer results or the arresting officer’s observations during a field sobriety test. A criminal defense attorney will review such evidence, assessing the procedures followed during the tests, the equipment used, and the officer’s training and competence. Suppose they discover that the breathalyzer hadn’t been calibrated as per state law, or the officer wasn’t adequately trained to administer the sobriety test. In such instances, they could challenge the reliability of this evidence, aiming to weaken the prosecution’s case. At Barnes & Fersten we strive to ensure every card is played and we investigate every potential defense. In criminal court we will file motions to suppress evidence such as if the breath results or blood results are unreliable, or if there is an illegal stop, arrest or seizure issue.


Scrutinizing the prosecution’s evidence is just the beginning. A criminal defense attorney also conducts independent investigations, engaging with witnesses to gauge their reliability and uncover any inconsistencies in their accounts. Furthermore, they understand that vital evidence may exist beyond the crime scene or the courtroom. They may, therefore, consult with expert witnesses, such as forensic scientists or medical practitioners, for deeper insights into the evidence.


Criminal defense attorneys can also seek additional information from phone records, bank statements, or even social media posts that could substantiate their client’s defense. For example, consider a case where a client is accused of aggravated assault occurring at a specific time and place. If social media posts or cellphone location data indicate the client was elsewhere at the time of the alleged incident, such information could form an essential part of the defense.

Protecting the Rights of the Accused

One of the key responsibilities of a criminal defense lawyer is the staunch defense of the rights of those accused of crimes. These rights form the backbone of the American justice system and demand that every individual, irrespective of the charges they face, is treated with fairness and justice. A defense attorney works diligently to safeguard these rights throughout the legal process, challenging any infringements and advocating for due process.


A significant right that criminal defense attorneys uphold is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, a cornerstone of our justice system. This principle places the onus on the prosecution to conclusively demonstrate the defendant’s guilt. Imagine a hypothetical situation where an attorney represents a client accused of a DUI. The attorney may probe the prosecution’s evidence, such as reasoning for a traffic stop or field sobriety test observations, forcing the prosecution to substantiate their claims beyond a reasonable doubt. This approach would seek to ensure the defendant’s right to be viewed as innocent until the prosecution can prove otherwise.


Additional fundamental rights that a defense attorney guards include the right to a speedy trial, the right against self-incrimination, and protection against unlawful searches and seizures. For instance, if a case is unnecessarily delayed, compromising a client’s Sixth Amendment right to a prompt trial, our attorneys may file a motion to dismiss the charges. Similarly, before any police questioning, our lawyers instruct clients not to divulge any information that might self-incriminate, effectively enforcing the Fifth Amendment. In circumstances where a law enforcement officer conducts a search without a warrant or probable cause, our defense attorneys can seek to suppress that evidence, arguing its acquisition infringes on the Fourth Amendment. Through these actions, Barnes & Fersten’s lawyers continually protect and uphold the rights of their clients.

Ensuring a Fair Trial Process

Ensuring a fair trial process is a fundamental duty of every criminal defense lawyer. This process starts long before the trial commences and continues even after a verdict has been rendered. A skilled criminal defense attorney places great emphasis on thoroughly understanding every aspect of the case. This understanding includes in-depth knowledge of the incident in question, the evidence presented, the credibility of the witnesses, and the legal procedures to be followed.


For instance, one of the initial stages in the legal process involves a preliminary hearing, where the prosecutor must demonstrate that there is enough evidence to charge the defendant with the alleged crime. If an arrest occurred without probable cause, an attorney would challenge this at the hearing, highlighting any violations of the client’s Fourth Amendment rights. The preliminary hearing allows our attorneys to hold the State’s witnesses to their sworn testimony because it is our opportunity to cross-examine the officer before trial. It also allows us to ask specific questions to set up a motion to suppress for criminal court and investigate the officer’s reasoning for acting in certain ways on the night of your arrest. Similarly, during the discovery phase, an attorney ensures that the prosecution provides all relevant evidence related to the case, ensuring transparency and fairness in the trial proceedings.


Jury selection is another critical component of a fair trial, where lawyers work to ensure the jury is impartial and unbiased. Consider, for example, a DUI case where a potential juror has a family member who was severely injured by a drunk driver. Our attorneys would likely challenge this juror’s inclusion in the panel, arguing that personal experience could bias their perspective of the case. If a conviction does occur, and there is a reason to believe that legal errors or bias affected the trial outcome, an attorney can file an appeal, seeking to rectify any injustice. In these ways, criminal defense attorneys work tirelessly to ensure a fair trial process for their clients.

Representing the Client in Court

Before a case goes to trial, the role of a criminal defense attorney includes numerous important tasks, like arraignment, discovery, pre-trial motions, and plea negotiations. During arraignment, the client is formally read the charges, and the lawyer enters a plea on behalf of the client—typically ‘not guilty.’ Throughout the discovery phase, our lawyers meticulously scrutinize the prosecution’s evidence, looking for weaknesses or legal issues that might support pre-trial motions to suppress evidence or even dismiss the charges.


For instance, in a case where a client is charged with drug possession, if an attorney discover that the police conducted a search without a valid warrant or probable cause, they could file a motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the unlawful search. If this motion is successful, it could lead to the dismissal of the charges due to lack of evidence.


Additionally, defense attorneys engage in plea negotiations with the prosecutor. Assessing the strength of the prosecution’s case and the client’s circumstances, they might recommend accepting a plea bargain if it is in the client’s best interest. This could involve the client pleading guilty to a lesser charge, leading to a reduced sentence.

Representation During Trial

Should a case proceed to trial, criminal defense attorneys employ a strategic blend of persuasive storytelling, rigorous cross-examination, and tenacious advocacy. The trial process begins with opening statements, where the defense attorney outlines the case from the client’s perspective, setting the tone for the defense’s narrative.


During the evidence presentation stage, our attorneys skillfully cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, aiming to uncover inconsistencies in their testimonies or challenge their credibility. For example, if a key witness for the prosecution is an expert who conducted a forensic analysis, our lawyers would interrogate the validity of their methods and findings, potentially exposing flaws or biases that could cast doubt on their conclusions.


Lastly, in the closing argument, our attorneys highlight any reasonable doubts about the prosecution’s case, reiterate key defense arguments, and appeal to the jury’s sense of justice and fairness. For instance, in a DUI case, the closing argument could underscore the lack of unequivocal evidence of the client’s impairment, highlighting any flaws in the prosecution’s sobriety tests or their interpretation.

Contact Barnes & Fersten’s Criminal Defense Attorneys

In the pursuit of justice, every detail matters. The attorneys at Barnes & Fersten are committed to leaving no stone unturned. We offer a comprehensive approach to your defense, from diligent investigations to the development of personalized defense plans. With deep knowledge of Tennessee’s legal landscape, we are committed to preserving your rights and seeking the most favorable outcome for your case. Contact Barnes & Fersten today and let us provide the defense you deserve.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.