During a criminal defense case, trial prep really begins once you receive the first set of discovery from the prosecution.
Usually after the meeting with the client, and having gathered all the discovery provided by prosecutors, you (the attorney) should have already established whether you and your client are going to take the case to trial. Along with that, a theory of the case should start to develop; that meaning, you should create or find a good story that the jury can get behind and follow. A story that the jury can believe is always better than boring facts, and with that said, there is no underestimating the importance of gathering all of the facts and evidence on said case.
A superior criminal defense is built upon a comprehensive understanding of the case and the defendant. In other words, don’t rely just upon the discovery given to you by the other side. You should be conducting your own independent investigation from the prosecution. If possible, stay within the theory of the case and try to gather some outside evidence that falls in line with that theory.
Lastly, do not be afraid to amend your theory of the case if the evidence requires it. Sometimes in a case, it is better to be flexible with an early theory, and as the discovery of evidence goes forward- you can add or subtract whatever is necessary to better your case.
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