For the uninitiated, courtroom procedures and language can be confusing and even intimidating. While those who work in the courts take for granted their knowledge of terms like criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, public defenders and judges, many people don’t know the differences between these titles, which can make things particularly confusing if when someone has been charged with a crime.
What’s the Difference Between a Criminal Lawyer and a Defense Attorney?
When it comes to someone who defends a person who has been accused of a crime, there is no actual difference between a lawyer and attorney and it’s equally correct to call them a criminal defense lawyer/attorney, defense attorney/lawyer or criminal lawyer/attorney.
What’s the Difference Between Criminal Attorneys and Prosecutors?
One thing that most people don’t understand is what a prosecutor is and how he differs from a defense lawyer. In fact, this distinction is particularly important in the courtroom as a prosecutor is the person who is arguing the government’s case against an accused person, known as the defendant, while the defense is there to advocate on behalf of the defendant. The prosecutor works for the District Attorney’s office, under the supervision of the County’s elected District Attorney.
It’s important to note that while both parties are arguing on different sides of the court, they have both passed the state bar exam and are practicing lawyers.
Where Does the Public Defender Fit in?
Public defenders are a specific type of criminal defense attorney that is provided to a defendant who cannot afford a lawyer. As explained in our FAQs, they are not used in every case, as only those who the courts determine to be unable to afford their own attorneys are granted a public defender. Even those who may qualify for public defenders may hire a private attorney if they so choose.
It’s worth mentioning that while public defenders can be every bit as good as a private defense attorney, they cannot start working on your case until you have been accused of a crime and assigned a public defender. That’s because typically the public defender isn’t appointed until the arraignment (first court date) after the defendant fills out financial forms showing indigency and the judge approves the appointment of the public defender. This means you can have a great advantage in your case if you hire a lawyer as soon as you believe you are suspected of a crime, since your attorney could help protect you during the investigation process.
Are Judges Lawyers Too?
In California courts and in all federal courts, judges proceeding over criminal trials are legally required to have served as a lawyer in order to qualify for the office. Interestingly, that is not the case throughout the rest of the country and 22 states allow non-lawyers to serve as judges in criminal courts.
While your judge must be a lawyer in California, it’s important to recognize that this is only so she properly understands the law and legal precedents that may apply to the case. A judge is not there to advocate on either side of the case and should be impartial to the person being tried. In fact, if the judge has a pre-existing relationship with the defendant, they are supposed to disclose this information and recuse themselves if it may affect her impartiality. Failure to do so could be considered judicial misconduct.
What Other Kinds of Lawyers are There?
While many people believe all attorneys practice criminal law, it’s worth mentioning there are actually dozens of types of lawyers out there. Because each of these specialties requires such a detailed knowledge of that particular branch of the law, an attorney simply cannot represent clients in all types of legal matters. While there are some general practice lawyers who handle more than one legal specialties, it is typically best to work with someone who specializes in the type of matter you’re looking for -particularly when it comes to criminal matters.
A few of the most common legal specialties outside of criminal law include:
- Business -and there are specialties in this area, including copyright infringement, discrimination, worker’s rights, incorporation law, contract law
- Personal injury -with further specializations in medical malpractice, product liability and mesothelioma
- Family -while most of these attorneys handle divorce and child custody matters, some also handle adoption matters
- Estate planning
If you have been a crime, it’s important you call a criminal lawyer who has the experience and knowledge to help you fight the charges against you. Peter M. Liss has 35 years experience and he can help you defend yourself against any criminal allegation. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.