Why would a guilty man faced with the certainty of a long mandatory prison sentence hire a lawyer? Why would he do so if he had confessed everything about his crime to the police? If there were no holes in the District Attorney's case against him? If he had no hope of "beating the rap"?
First, a case that appears hopeless may not be. A good defense attorney is trained to look for any weakness in a case, especially weakness that someone with less legal experience might overlook. For example, was that confession taken in a manner that meets Constitutional muster? Did the police commit any Fourth Amendment violations in their investigation? Does the evidence gathered meet the strict elemental requirements of the statute? If drugs were seized, were they tested? Was all laboratory work done correctly? As one of my clients recently put it, "If the District Attorney is going to hold a gun to my head, I'd like to know if it's loaded."
But let's assume for a moment that the experienced criminal defense attorney examines the evidence and determines the case is airtight. What then?
I am convinced even cases that may appear hopeless can benefit from negotiation with the District Attorney. Given the number of cases filed every year, the District Attorney simply cannot try every single one. Very few people indeed are prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.” The resources are just not there. About ninety-five percent of all criminal cases are resolved through the plea bargaining process. This obviously includes a vast number of cases where the person accused is, in fact, guilty.