3 factors that make hiring a private criminal defense attorney crucial

The difficulty of defending against criminal charges, the risk of wrongful conviction and the consequences of a conviction make hiring a lawyer advisable.

Each year, thousands of people in Greenville and other parts of South Carolina face accusations of criminal activity. In 2013 alone, over 99,000 people were arrested statewide for assault, drug crimes, weapons violations, driving under the influence or other alcohol-related infractions, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. With other offenses factored in, the overall number of arrests was even higher.

Many people who have been charged with criminal offenses may consider addressing those charges with only the assistance of a court-appointed public defender. However, several factors can make hiring a private attorney advisable for people in this position, starting with the following issues.

1. Serious lingering consequences

In South Carolina, the consequences of a criminal conviction can be significant. In addition to facing fines and incarceration, convicted individuals may incur collateral consequences, such as loss of the right to carry a firearm. According to the National Institute of Justice, these consequences can persist long after a person has served his or her time, and some may even last indefinitely.

People who have only been convicted of misdemeanors may still face substantial collateral consequences, according to Time magazine. These sanctions may limit a person's ability to secure housing, financial assistance, professional licenses and employment. Unfortunately, many people may overlook these harmful outcomes when deciding whether to plead guilty to a given offense or handle the charges without private legal assistance.

2. Threat of wrongful conviction

Many wrongly accused individuals may believe that they do not need to seek legal representation because the objective evidence will support their innocence. However, national data shows that wrongful convictions occur alarmingly often. Per the National Registry of Exonerations, over 1,800 wrongfully convicted individuals have been exonerated in the U.S. to date. Wrongful convictions may occur due to many factors, including the following variables:

  • Forensic evidence that is inaccurate or presented in a misleading light
  • Mistakes on the part of eyewitnesses
  • Misconduct on the part of prosecutors, forensic analysts or other officials

Unfortunately, it may be difficult for a wrongly accused individual to assess whether any of these factors are influencing his or her case. Furthermore, appealing a criminal conviction and obtaining relief later can be a challenging process. A defense attorney may able to help ensure that potential issues with the evidence against a person are properly taken into account when the person's case is first heard.

3. Challenges of mounting a defense

In some cases it may be difficult for an overworked public defender to craft an effective defense, and most people facing criminal charges lack the legal knowledge to defend themselves. Troublingly, here in South Carolina, one-third of the wrongful convictions recorded in the National Registry of Exonerations were attributed in part to insufficient legal defense. Hiring an attorney can help a person ensure that his or her case receives adequate time and attention, thereby improving the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Identifying the right option

Before ruling out the possibility of hiring an attorney, anyone facing criminal charges in South Carolina should first consider consulting with one. A private attorney may be able to help a person assess his or her options and identify the best strategy for minimizing the long-term consequences of the charges.