Should I Hire a Former Prosecutor as My Defense Lawyer?
Criminal Defense Lawyer by Calling, or by Default?
As the economy has struggled and hiring in the legal industry has slowed, there has been a proliferation of private practice ‘criminal defense’ attorneys. Many of these inexperienced defense lawyers promote their previous employment as prosecutors as though that experience crosses over directly to their ability as defense lawyers. Their sales pitch is focused on some sort of obscure, secret knowledge about ‘how prosecutors think’ (as if that’s a mystery to begin with…) or some sort of ‘inside track’ with the other lawyers in the prosecutor’s office that will result in getting their clients ‘better deals.’
Prosecution and Defense are NOT the same!
The idea that prosecuting criminal cases improves a lawyer’s ability to defend people is just as absurd as the idea that playing pitcher will somehow improve your batting, or that playing quarterback will somehow make you a better wide receiver.
Persecution or Redemption?
The mind-set necessary to successfully prosecute (persecute) people is entirely different from the mind-set necessary to effectively defend people accused of crime. Prosecutors believe that no police officer could ever make a mistake, let alone deliberately lie about anything. Anyone arrested must have done something wrong. And the ‘guilty’ must be punished.
True defense lawyers have seen police misconduct first-hand. They know that innocent people are arrested and wrongly accused every day. They also know that good people make mistakes and should not have to pay for those mistakes with everything they have ever worked for in life.
Cooperative Witness or Hostile Witness?
The legal skills involved in the prosecution of criminal cases are equally dissimilar to the legal skills necessary to effectively defend people. Prosecutors spend their professional lives conducting what is known as ‘direct-examination’ – questioning of friendly witnesses who want the same thing the prosecutor wants – a conviction. A typical direct examination of a police officer in a criminal case goes something like this: ‘What did you do? What did you do next? What did you do next?’ The police officer on the witness stand is all too willing to answer freely and help to fill in damning details wherever the prosecutor has left a blank spot in the case.
Prosecutors turned defense lawyers are dumbfounded when the police officers who once were so eager to help them from the witness stand now see them as ‘the enemy’ and refuse to concede even the slightest favorable response to the now defense lawyer’s questions. Controlling a hostile and often uncooperative witness requires mastery of ‘cross examination’ – a skill few prosecutors ever get the chance to develop.
The “Buddy System” in Plea Negotiations.
The ‘inside track’ negotiating advantage that many prosecutors-turned-defense-lawyers promote to prospective clients is equally misplaced. Many prosecutors leave the district attorney’s office in hope of making more money than government employment has to offer. Those who stay behind often resent those who turned their back on persecuting those seen as ‘guilty criminals’ in order to make more money.
The hard truth is that prosecutors don’t make favorable plea offers based on friendship. They make favorable plea offers in cases that they realize there is a chance of losing at trial. The greater the chance of losing at trial, the better an offer the prosecutor is willing to make.
There are former prosecutors who have worked hard to become good defense lawyers. They care very much about their clients and they are diligent in achieving the very best possible outcome in each case they handle. But the very good defense lawyers who once worked as prosecutors will tell you that they didn’t become good defense lawyers ‘because’ of what they learned in the prosecutor’s office. No, they became good defense lawyers in spite of what they learned in the prosecutor’s office.
If you need a home run, look for a skilled hitter. If you need a touchdown, look for a skilled wide receiver. And if you need someone to defend you against serious criminal charges, look for a skilled, experienced Defense Lawyer.
I represent clients facing Misdemeanor and Felony Criminal and DUI charges in the Greater Kansas City Metro Area and the municipalities of Johnson County, Kansas, including De Soto, Gardner, Leawood, Lenexa, Merriam, Mission, Olathe, Overland Park, and Shawnee. Call today for a free consultation: (913) 322-3265.
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