5 Basic Qualities Needed to Successfully Defend Criminal Cases

An attorney who defends people charged with drug crimes must possess at least these five important qualities:

  1. Determination to perform the work necessary to marshal a powerful defense for every client;
  2. Experience handling cases involving drug charges and the judgment necessary to identify the best defense strategy;
  3. Knowledge of the complex Federal and State laws, court decisions, and rules that apply to drug cases;
  4. The ability to effectively communicate with judges and prosecutors before trial, and if the matter proceeds to trial, the ability to effectively communicate with a jury;
  5. A strong belief in the rights guaranteed by the Federal and State Constitutions, including the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the presumption of innocence, and the right to remain silent and not help the government prove its case against you.

Knowledgeable attorneys experienced in drug defense law are best able to identify a winning defense strategy. In most drug cases, the defense attorney argues one of the following defenses: 1) insufficient evidence of possession or intent; 2) the police conducted an unreasonable search, seizure, or interrogation; 3) the police conducted and improper or inadequate investigation.

Oftentimes, when the police find drugs in a car, or in a house or apartment, they will charge everybody who is present with drug possession, or even with intent to distribute the drugs. The attorney’s knowledge of the law is crucial in these circumstances. Under both Federal and Massachusetts law, merely being in the presence of illegal drugs does not prove that a person possessed them.

In cases where a defendant is arrested with just a small amount of drugs in his possession, the prosecutor will often charge the defendant with the more serious offense of intent to distribute, if the drugs were contained in separate packets. However, under Massachusetts law, the quantity of drugs possessed must be very large before the Court will sustain a conviction for intent to distribute from this fact alone. This is very important because, where the prosecutor can prove intent to distribute drugs, the punishment is usually more severe. In fact, “mandatory minimum” sentences, where a defendant is not eligible for parole, are frequently handed down in cases involving distribution of drugs or intent to distribute drugs.

Challenging the legality of searches and seizures conducted by the police, with or without a search warrant, is one of the most complex areas of criminal defense law. If the police recover drugs by means of an illegal search, then the drugs must be excluded from evidence under the “exclusionary rule” of the Federal and Massachusetts Constitutions. Most drugs will be excluded if the defense attorney persuades the Court that the police search was conducted in an illegal manner. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that the defense lawyer has superior knowledge and understanding of search and seizure law, and the ability to clearly explain to the judge why the evidence must be excluded. In many cases, the only defense available is to establish the illegality of the search.

A lawyer’s knowledge and experience defending drug cases is very important in helping her indentify improper or inadequate methods of investigation used by the police. For example, if the police allege they observed a drug transaction while conducting surveillance of someone or some location, the lawyer can cast doubt on the police testimony if there are no photographs or videotapes. The lawyer can show this to be a police failure to secure irrefutable evidence. When the police seize money or drugs, they often fail to test for fingerprints or DNA evidence. Failure to run those available tests can be grounds to doubt the testimony of police officers. If the police arrest a defendant who possesses drugs, then they fail to follow up with a search of the defendant’s home for evidence of drug dealing, the defense lawyer can use that to cast doubt on the police claim that the defendant intended to distribute those drugs.

When a drug case is not dismissed prior to trial due to lack of evidence or an illegal search and seizure, and the defendant does not take a plea, then the battlefield shifts to the trial court.

A trial attorney must carefully prepare a case for trial. To be effective at trial, a lawyer must be able to think quickly, to act decisively, and to perform under pressure in public. Not every lawyer has what it takes. Many lawyers are afraid to go to trial because they lack experience. This can lead to advising the client to plead guilty even if there are good grounds to believe a jury would return a verdict of not guilty.

Just be sure the lawyer you hire to defend you has the five basic qualities listed at the beginning of this article. That is the first step in getting a not guilty verdict.