Are There Different Types of Criminal Defense Lawyers in SC?

I came across an article that claimed to discuss the “different types of criminal defense lawyers.” I’m not sure what the point was or who wrote it – I stopped reading once I realized that two of their types of “defense lawyers” were state and federal prosecutors. How could people be so confused about the role of defense lawyers that they would think a prosecutor is a type of defense lawyer?

Are there different types of criminal defense attorneys? There are criminal defense lawyers who have different philosophies about the practice of law, and there are criminal defense lawyers who receive their compensation from different sources. There are also criminal defense lawyers who focus on certain areas of criminal law like juvenile defense or DUI defense.

Although it’s not always obvious to non-attorneys (and some attorneys), there are ways to distinguish between criminal defense attorneys, and you should ensure that your defense lawyer is someone who handles your kind of case in a way that you are comfortable with

What are the Different Kinds of Criminal Defense Lawyers?

The three main distinctions that I see are: 1) private v. public, 2) focuses in particular practice areas, and 3) the philosophies of different attorneys. Let’s take a look at each of these:

Private Attorney or Public Defender?

Private criminal defense attorneys choose the cases that they take and they also set their own fees. Does this mean that you will get a better defense with a private attorney? Maybe – it depends on the individual attorney more than anything else. I can tell you that I’ve seen public defenders and I’ve seen private attorneys who were horrible and who did not seem to care about their clients. I’ve also seen both public defenders and private attorneys who were street fighters and did not back down from trials.

The bottom line is, if you cannot afford an attorney, you will be given an attorney who is paid by the state whether it is a public defender or contract public defender. And, you cannot choose who your attorney will be.

If you can afford to pay an attorney, you do not get to choose the public defender’s office – they are only there as a safety net for the people who cannot pay private counsel. On the other hand, when you retain a criminal defense lawyer, you get the freedom to choose who will represent you.

Do Criminal Defense Lawyers Focus on Specific Practice Areas?

Most “criminal defense lawyers” are actually general practitioners who combine their criminal defense practice with auto accidents, domestic law, or other practice areas. Very few attorneys in SC limit themselves to criminal defense work.

Out of the attorneys who do limit themselves to criminal defense, even fewer limit themselves to specific areas of criminal defense. Some examples include:

  • Criminal defense attorneys who limit themselves to state court cases (including public defenders);
  • Federal criminal defense lawyers who limit themselves to federal court (including federal public defenders);
  • Juvenile criminal defense lawyers – these tend to be public defenders who are assigned to handle juvenile cases only;
  • DUI defense lawyers – a rare beast, but there are a few in the state who do nothing but DUI defense; and
  • Attorneys who limit themselves to a certain type of crime – I know one out-of-state attorney, for example, who accepts only sex crime cases.

What is Your Attorney’s Philosophy?

This may be hard to figure out before retaining an attorney. Reading the advertising content on lawyers’ websites, you would think we are all trial lawyers who fight to the death for our clients…

The truth is, every criminal defense lawyer has their own philosophy and style of practicing law. Some will tell you up front, and the rest you should be able to figure out after having a conversation with them. Here’s my list of the types of criminal defense lawyers that I have come across in SC:

  • Rage against the machine: Always fighting, tirelessly working to end injustice everywhere, to expose police misconduct, and, most importantly, to win your case using any means that is legal and ethical (there are more of these than you might think);
  • “I represent the Constitution” lawyers: For some reason, they do not want to admit they are fighting to protect a person accused of a horrible crime. They will say that their job is to make sure the process is fair and that the government is not violating your constitutional rights as you are convicted and sent to prison;
  • The “broker”: I’ve heard some lawyers say that their job is always to broker a fair deal between the defendant and the state – you’re not getting a trial with this lawyer, but they will keep the peace as you plead guilty;
  • The money maker: Most lawyers are in the business to earn a living. Even the most diligent attorneys who care deeply about you and your case must still make a living. Some attorneys are just in it to make money, however – they will tell you what you want to hear, at least until they have deposited your check…

I, too, want to earn a living. I have to – I have a family to support and bills to pay. But, that shouldn’t be the only reason that a criminal defense attorney goes to work every day. I believe that a criminal defense lawyer’s job is to win your case using any means that is legal and ethical. The defense lawyer’s duty is to win their client’s case whether they are innocent, guilty, or the attorney isn’t sure.

I also believe that an attorney’s likelihood of winning your case is determined in part by how much they care about your case. Caring motivates a person to work harder. Also, if an attorney does not care about their clients, their clients’ families, and the client’s struggles, how will they make the prosecutor, judge, or jurors care about their client? Caring is contagious…

What do you think a defense attorney’s role should be?

SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Columbia, Lexington, and Myrtle Beach

Criminal defense and DUI defense attorney Lacey Thompson accepts criminal defense cases in the Columbia, Lexington, Conway, and Myrtle Beach SC areas. Call at 843-444-6122 or fill out our online contact form if you have questions or to set up a free initial consultation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *