The Law Dictionary

Your Free Online Legal Dictionary • Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.

What Is The Role Of A Defense Attorney?

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In the U.S. justice system, everyone is entitled to a vigorous legal defense. In most cases, this defense is headed up by an experienced defense attorney. However, many people don’t really know what a defense attorney does.

The Basics of the Defense Attorney Role

A defense attorney represents a defendant in court proceedings. They most often appear in criminal court when the defendant has been accused of committing a crime like a burglary or murder. Whether the charges against the defendant are a misdemeanor or a major felony, they are entitled to vigorous legal defense, and it is the job of the defense attorney to provide this.

Pre-Trial Services

Most legal matters that are handled by defense attorneys begin months before the trial date. Their services may be engaged to protect the rights of a person who has not yet been charged with a crime, but suspects that they may be charged soon. This way, the defense attorney can be present for any interviews with law enforcement and can instruct their client regarding which questions should or should not be answered.

Defense attorneys may themselves become deeply involved in the investigative process as they begin reviewing evidence and search for further documents or other items that might support the innocence of their client. Moreover, the defense attorney may move to have the charges against their client dropped if insufficient evidence of their guilt comes to light or if the manner in which the investigation was conducted is called into question.

A defense attorney provides other services like:

  • Arguing for bail on behalf of their client
  • Negotiating a plea deal with the prosecution in an effort to resolve the charges quickly and efficiently

A plea bargain often means that the client gets reduced charges and therefore a lighter sentence than they might if the matter had proceeded to trial.

Trial Services

When negotiations and plea bargains fail, the defense attorney prepares to represent their client in court. Utilizing deposition transcripts and the evidence, the defense attorney builds a strategy to protect their client’s rights. The prosecution is responsible for proving to a jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. While the defense does not have the burden of proving their client’s innocence, they are free to present evidence that shows their client’s innocence or that could cast doubt of the client’s guilt in the minds of the jury.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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