How Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Defend a Client They Know to Be Guilty?

How Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Defend a Client They Know to Be Guilty?

Defense attorneys get their fair share of both innocent and guilty clients. And they must provide the best possible representation to both categories. When it comes to guilty clients, a defense attorney’s job is not to decide guilt.

His duty is to provide rigorous defense for his client against the charges that have been brought by the prosecution. During a trial, the prosecution has one goal. And that is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the crime for which he’s being charged.

What Is Criminal Defense?

Criminal defense is the argument or series of arguments backed up by evidence that a      a criminal defense lawyer puts up in court to secure his client’s freedom. To put up a good defense, a criminal defense attorney will need to have a solid strategy made up of strong arguments and a well-developed defense theory.

Therefore, the criminal defense lawyer investigates the case, analyzes the evidence, and decides on the best possible line of defense to ensure their client goes free. In this article, we will look at what criminal defense is and how a criminal defense attorney defends a client they know is guilty.

Because every criminal case is unique, the defense attorney must consider several factors when preparing a good defense strategy. These include;

  • The defendant’s explanation of what happened and whether it is credible
  • Availability of credible witnesses to offer their testimonies
  • Provable facts and physical evidence
  • Lack of credibility and errors in the prosecution’s evidence
  • Criminal code for the State in which the crime was committed
  • The prosecution’s strategy and history of the prosecuting attorney
  • Judge’s decision on previous criminal cases of a similar nature

All of these factors come together to help a criminal defense attorney decide the best strategy to help him win a case.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Defends a Client They Know to Be Guilty

Depending on the unique circumstances surrounding a case, criminal defense lawyers defend guilty clients using different strategies.

1.   Reasonable Doubt

According to the law of the United States, a defendant can only be pronounced guilty if the prosecution can prove that they committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the evidence presented must be satisfactory. And if it is a federal case, all jury members must agree that the defendant is guilty.

Therefore, the federal defense lawyer in this strategy must cast doubt in the jury’s minds. The most effective way to do this is to bring the credibility of the witnesses brought forth by the prosecution into question.

This can be achieved by showing that the witnesses are biased toward the defendant. Or making the jury believe that the witnesses may be lying. Another way to cast doubt is to insinuate that the witness has been bribed or offered immunity or lesser punishment for a crime.

A defense attorney can also question the likelihood of certain aspects of testimony by bringing up other logical explanations for events that occurred. For example, in a burglary charge, a criminal lawyer can simply explain that the defendant was in the home of the victim at the time the burglary took place because he is a friend of the family’s oldest son and would always visit them at any hour.

2.   Accidental Crime

In this strategy, the defense attorney seeks to prove that the crime was accidental rather than premeditated. For example, if a man chokes and injures his wife, his attorney could argue that it was an accidental choking during consensual sexual activity.

Whether or not this strategy will work will depend on the State’s criminal code. Many US States differentiate between deliberate and accidental offenses and allow the defendant to serve a lesser punishment if it is deemed that the event was an accident and that there was no criminal intent.

3.   Self-Defense or Imminent Danger

Self-defense is another common strategy criminal lawyers use to defend their clients. Many states permit crimes that were committed in an attempt to protect one’s self or others. Examples of imminent danger include fear of being killed, raped, robbed, or sustaining great bodily injury.

If the criminal activity was carried out under any of these circumstances, it may not be deemed a crime, and the defendant will serve no punishment. However, for this strategy to be successful, the attack launched against the victim must be proportionate to the danger feared.

For example, shooting an intruder with no weapon may not be considered proportionate. Stabbing an intruder who comes at you with a knife may not be considered proportionate.

4.   Defendant Alibi

This is another frequently used defense tactic. A person can’t be pronounced guilty of a crime if they can prove that they were somewhere else when the criminal activity occurred. This is a very useful tactic when the defendant has completely denied committing the crime.

For an alibi to work, however, it must be backed up with evidence. This could include witnesses willing to testify or video footage, pictures, or GPS recording that can prove that the defendant was someplace else other than the scene of the crime.

The more physical evidence that can be presented to back up an alibi, the more believable it will be. If you rely on witness testimony alone, they have to be credible. It is usually better if they have no personal connections to the defendant.

5.   Police Misconduct

Sometimes, in the course of carrying out their investigations, law enforcement officers may commit some misconduct. This is one of the best defense strategies to use. Being able to prove inappropriate or illegal conduct on the part of police can be grounds for even dismissing a case.

Police misconduct could be in several forms, including; coercing defendants to confess, intimidating witnesses, planting, doctoring, or mishandling evidence, obtaining evidence without probable cause, exaggerating facts or falsifying reports, performing unwarranted searches, or surveillance.

If a criminal defense lawyer can prove that any of these have occurred, then he stands the chance of being able to get the case dismissed even before the trial.

6.   Insanity Plea

For a crime to stick, there must be willful intent. The prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant knew and understood the moral consequences of their action. This is not possible if the accused is legally insane.

An insanity plea is a strong defense that works in almost every state in the US. Insanity can be proven by having the defendant undergo an insanity defense test. While the criteria for proving insanity may vary from one state to another, four legal standards bind all insanity pleas.

  • That the defendant cannot distinguish between right and wrong because of their mental illness,
  • That the defendant is incapable of understanding that the act they committed was criminal due to their mental illness,
  • That the mental illness itself is responsible for the crime, and
  • That the defendant is unable to control and resist their impulses and inclinations because of their mental illness.

If any of these can be proven, the defendant will receive a not-guilty verdict.

7.   Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations refers to the maximum period within which legal actions may be initiated for a crime committed. Hence, if a criminal case is filed against a defendant after the statutes of limitations have elapsed, it may result in a dismissal.

The reason for the law is that evidence deteriorates over time. Also, witnesses’ recall of events may no longer be accurate. These can lead to wrongful convictions. Statutes of limitations also vary from one state to another and from one crime to another.

The nature of the crime will determine how long the statutes of limitations will be. Murder charges, for example, especially first-degree murder, have no limitations and can always be prosecuted.


The ultimate goal of any criminal defense attorney is to secure a non-guilty verdict for their client. Whether the client is guilty or not. To do this, a criminal lawyer must be strategic and tactical. The wrong defense strategy can end up helping the prosecution instead.

And so, while the above strategies have been used repeatedly and proven to be very effective in criminal trials, it must be noted that no two cases are the same. So if you have been accused of a federal crime and are seeking legal representation, make sure you choose a federal criminal defense lawyer whose primary focus is giving you the best defense.

You must also be open and give the facts of the events exactly as they happened. Do not lie or cover up evidence. This will help your lawyer figure out how best to defend you.

Anjelica Huston

About the author: Anjelica Huston

Anjelica Huston writes about technology and human potential.

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