Legal Research in Criminal Cases

by | Jan 24, 2020 | Blog Posts, DWI, Federal Criminal Defense, NC Criminal Defense, SC Criminal Defense | 0 comments

Legal research in criminal cases – The amount of work that a criminal defense attorney must do on a criminal case is often unknown and underestimated.  It is not difficult to understand the amount of work that is put towards court appearances, trial preparation, and reviewing discovery to most clients.  Further, some clients appreciate and understand the time that it takes for attorneys to conduct their own investigation, handle jail visits, explain the law to them, and counsel them on legal matters, but there is still a lot more that goes unnoticed.

One of the many things that go unnoticed and unexplained is the amount of time that criminal defense attorneys and their support staff spend either doing legal research or reading and researching the appropriate information for different cases.  In this blog, we will discuss it a little bit. We will discuss the reasons why, how it’s done, and what methods some of us use.  Like all our blogs, this is intended for general informational purposes only, and not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense attorney.  Also, reading this blog or any other shouldn’t be considered legal research.

The need for legal research in criminal cases

The law is based on rules and the facts that apply to those rules.  It is also based on precedent, which means legally speaking, the way prior judges ruled on something should provide a guideline on how a current judge should rule on a similar set of facts.  A criminal defense attorney needs to understand the elements of a crime, evidentiary issues, and consequences related to charges and potential convictions.

No matter how great a criminal defense attorney is, it is impossible for him or her to handle criminal cases without regularly doing some legal research because of some or all the following issues:

There are a lot of laws

There are thousands of state and federal crimes. Sometimes someone can be charged with a crime that his attorney is not familiar with. It is not a cause for concern, nor should it be surprising. It not difficult for an attorney to look what he needs to know for the crime in question.

Things change all the time

Laws change regularly.  Expunction law changes, the classification of crimes change, and new crimes are added.  Legal research provides us with a way of keeping current with criminal law in an efficient way. Having old information can be as bad if not worse than not having information at all.

Finding similarities in prior cases can be very helpful

There are legal positions that can best be argued by looking at case law that previously decided it.  An example of this would be making a probable cause argument. Sometimes the best way to argue a lack of probable cause it by looking at the facts and circumstances at hand and comparing it to a similar case with similar facts and circumstances.

The judge sometimes needs to be persuaded with documentation

There are instances in a criminal trial where the defense attorney is asking a judge to make a ruling to suppress some evidence to otherwise restrict the government from doing something. This occurs often during pre-trial motions.  In persuading the judge that what you are asking of them is something that they have the legal authority to do, and that there is precedent for, it is helpful to have some sort of documentation through case law, statutes, rules of evidence of some other legally sufficient source of law.

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes of a criminal case. Criminal law is complicated and requires expert help.  The main problem that people run into when they are attempting to represent themselves is that they don’t know what they don’t know.  If you have been charged with a crime, hire an attorney.


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