What Is a Criminal Defense Attorney & Why Do I Need One?

In this video, Minnesota attorney Aaron Hall interviews Twin Cities criminal defense lawyer Barry Edwards. Barry talks about why a criminal defendant needs a lawyer, common mistakes criminal defendants make, what to do if you’re arrested and what sets him apart from other criminal defense lawyers, among other things.


Interviewer: Aaron Hall (AH), Minneapolis Attorney
Interviewee: Barry Edwards (BE), Criminal Defense Attorney

[Start of Transcription]


AH: As a criminal defense attorney people may ask you, “Why do I need an attorney?” What is your answer on that?
BE: It’s a good question I get all the time. The reason is that if you go to court by yourself, if you are not used to being at court which most current defendants are not. You are not going to know the collateral consequences of the crime you have been charged with. Whether that’s a driver’s license, a professional license, probation, a chemical dependency treatment; whether you can own a gun in the future, how it effects other civil matters. These are the things that prosecutor has no obligation to tell you. And won’t tell you. He is going to make the best deal that he can for the estate. You need someone like me who knows all the implications, [01:00] all matter of consequences.

AH: What’s to stop a person from doing a free consultation at a bunch of attorneys to learn the collateral consequences?

BE: If someone can learn what I know from years of experience and courts all over the state in front of different judges with a series of half hour /forty five minute interviews with several attorneys, they should!

AH: Sure, I hear you! So when negotiating a plea deal, what is it that attorneys do that can give them a better deal to the client than what the client could get on their own?

BE: Another good question. When I go into representing a client, whether it’s an arrangement, an ominous hearing or any of the stages up to trial, I go in with the trial defense prepared. I go in [02:00] ready to try the case not ready as far as having all my witnesses aligned but I’d know what my defenses are and I’m ready to make the state prove their case. You can’t negotiate unless you have got something to back it up with. And when I go in to negotiate I know that I have got a case that I think I can win in front of the jury. That puts the state on the defensive and gives me a better position to deal.

AH: When people represent themselves what are some common mistakes you see them making when dealing with a prosecutor or law enforcement or all there is in the court system?

BE: Talking!

[Mutual laugh]

BE: Talking to law enforcement. Clients often come to me to clean up the trouble after they have tried to represent themselves. And I usually find that what they’ve said to the prosecutor, what they’ve said to law enforcement [03:00] has really dug a pretty deep hole. If you say something that … the Miranda warning says … wants you to say “Can and will be used against you” and not “Can and may be used against you!” That’s because when you talk to cops it’s going to be used against you. The prosecutor’s job is to hang you out to dry, as best they can. And when people represent themselves they talk way too much.

AH: When a person is contacted by law enforcement and law enforcement has some questions about a crime the person doesn’t know if they are a person of interest or are being accused. Law enforcement simply has questions. When would you advise them to say nothing and seem like they are obstructing the process when they may have nothing to do with it vs. talking and trying to help solve a crime that occurred?

BE: No good ever comes when talking to the police. [04:00] [AH laughs briefly] No good at all! If a cop wants to ask you questions, you need to firmly and politely say, “I’m sorry I will not talk to you without a lawyer present”. Sounds extreme, it sounds a little absurd. But once you start talking there will be inconsistencies. There will be questions they have later. At the very beginning, even if you are pulled over and you don’t know why …“I’m sorry but I won’t talk to you without an attorney present!”

AH: That’s an interesting point. So the officer pulls you over and says “You know why I pulled you over”, your first response is?

BE: Believe it or not Aaron this happened to me yesterday. [AH laughs briefly] I was pulled over and the police officer asked me if I had known what the speed limit was which gave me an indication why he pulled me over. And I said to him, “I’m sorry I’m not going to discuss the speed limit with you.” And that was it [05:00]. He went back. He ran my plates. He did whatever he did. He came back and issued me a warning.

AH: Sometimes people feel intimidated. They may feel like, “I don’t want to irritate the officer, so I will try to be nice and give him/her what she wants”. But your advice is consistently always just say, “I want to speak with my attorney”.

BE: Every time! It sounds a little absurd but you should never … cops are not paid to exonerate people. Cops are paid to prosecute people.

AH: If you are asked to get out of car, what is the proper response?

BE: If you’re asked to get out of your car, you know, this is one of the things that I know from my personal experience. Once they stop you, especially if you are talking about maybe a DWI, or impaired driving … [06:00] once you refuse to field sobriety test: getting out of your car, standing on one leg, heel to toe lock, follow the pen with your finger … once you start doing any of that you are digging yourself a whole. When you get out of the car, if you use the door frame of the car for balance that will show up in a police report. I subpoena the videos, the squad car videos, the audio from the microphone the police officer has on his collar, and I see when they say, “Suspect or defendant used the car frame to support himself, he was unstable”. Once you do anything they are going to put that in police report. Say, “I’m sorry I refuse to speak to you without my attorney present and I refuse to take any field sobriety test.”

AH: So you would recommend to refuse field sobriety. But let’s differentiate that from the breathalyzer [07:00]. What if they want you to take the breathalyzer?
BE: Field sobriety, you need to refuse unless you were in an accident that caused a … bodily harm someone, including yourself. What they give you on the street, what they ask you to blow into on the street is a field sobriety test called a PBT (preliminary breadth test). It’s about the size of a pack of cigarettes. If they offer it to you on the street it’s not a breathalyzer; you should not accept it; you should not blow into it. You should politely and firmly say, “I will not take any field sobriety test.” If at that point you are arrested anyway and you probably will be. Then when you get to the police station they may offer you a different test which is a breathalyzer, which is a machine about this big. It’s a table top machine not a handheld machine [08:00]. That’s a breathalyzer. If you don’t take that test, you are guilty of a gross misdemeanor. That test you should take again unless you caused an accident that resulted in bodily harm.

AH: That’s good advice. Barry you are a very experienced criminal defense attorney. Can you tell us a little about your background?

BE: I have been practicing law for over 10 years. I have practiced criminal defense from petty misdemeanors which are traffic tickets, through felonies. I have got into acquittals all the way across the board, not in every case but in every type of case. I have practiced in all seven metro counties. Before practicing I have worked in the courts. So I have got a very good understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, who the judges are talking to, how the paper work is processed. That can be important. Knowing what … literally what codes should be written on the paperwork to [09:00] represent what the judge agreed to is somebody that not everybody knows, I do. I look at the paperwork. I find out whose filing. I find out where it’s getting filed. And every court room, every county has a different procedure. There are different procedures in different counties.

AH: What would you say differentiates a skilled attorney in the court room vs. one that is not skilled?

BE: The volume … the volume with which they speak. A lot of people look for an aggressive attorney or the most aggressive attorney. Being loud, arguing, shouting, pounding your chest doesn’t win cases.

AH: Interesting … it wins TV shows!

BE: It wins TV shows. Judge, jury might rule in your favor. But if you know the law; if you know your facts; if you have looked at the forensic toxicology data; if you have looked at the evidence; if you have looked at the law that you have got a defense, you don’t need to shout. You tell the prosecutor what argument you have got [10:00] and the prosecutor sees that you are ready to go, that you are ready to try the case. Then you better make better make a pretty good deal. An attorney who is shouting, an attorney who is pounding his chest or jumping up and down I know that attorney is inexperienced or just does not have a very good case.

[End of transcription]