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Types of Defense Attorneys

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In addition to having attained a Juris Doctor degree, a person must be admitted to and licensed by his state bar to practice law in a specific state. Once licensed, he may choose to specialize in the area of legal defense. Defenders provide their clients with representation and try to get the best possible outcome for them in legal proceedings. There are different types of defense attorneys, specializing in different areas of law. Whether the defendant in a divorce or faces a felony murder charge, a client will be best served by a defense attorney who specializes in that category of law.

Criminal Defense Attorneys

An attorney that specializes in criminal defense may be self-employed, work for a law firm, other organizations such as nonprofits or for government agencies. He will develop an affirmative defense strategy that challenges the strength, validity and sufficiency of the evidence for the prosecution and provide evidence that defends the client, such as an alibi. If this is not possible or sufficient, he may resort to other types of defense to try to get a "not guilty" verdict for his client. This may include: coercion or duress, where the client was forced to commit a crime; self-defense, where the client acted to defend himself; consent, where the victim consented to the client's actions; and statute of limitations, where the amount of time the prosecution has to bring charges against a defendant has expired. Although commonly used in movies, the insanity defense, that accepts that you committed the alleged crime, but were unaware that you were doing wrong, is used only infrequently and is rarely successful.

Public Defenders

Public defenders generally work for government appointed agencies, such as a county defender's office. They are bar-licensed attorneys who represent clients accused of felonies but who cannot afford to hire an attorney themselves. The right to representation, regardless of ability to pay, came about as a result of the Florida state court case of Gideon versus Wainwright, where Gideon was charged with felony breaking and entering. He could not afford to hire a defense attorney and when he requested one he was refused. He defended himself and was found guilty and incarcerated. He applied to the Florida Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, on the grounds that his conviction violated his rights under the Constitution. He won the right to a new trial and legal representation and was then acquitted.

Civil Defense Attorneys

Civil defense attorneys represent people that have been named in lawsuits, from whom recompense is being sought. They will try to prove that their clients are not responsible or liable in the case. Cases are wide-ranging and include divorce, personal injuries and mass torts. In a mass tort action, large numbers of claimants come together to sue a defendant. For example, the tobacco industry has seen cases where former smokers with chronic conditions have sued them as being the cause.

Juvenile Defense Attorneys

Juvenile defense attorneys defend young people aged 10 to 17 who are not old enough to be tried as adults. While most juvenile crimes are similar to those of adults, the penalties and laws associated with juvenile crimes are very different. For example, juveniles are not entitled to a trial by jury and they are not allowed bail. Juvenile defense attorneys are specialized in juvenile laws and trying to get rehabilitative outcomes for defendants instead of incarceration.


Helen Harvey began her writing career in 1990 and has worked in journalism, writing, copy-editing and as a consultant. She has worked for world-class news sources including Reuters and the "Daily Express." She holds a Master of Arts in mass media communications from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

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