Understanding the Prosecutor’s Perspective
Whenever I meet with a prosecutor, I try to understand my client’s case from their perspective. That’s relatively easy for me to do because I used to be a prosecutor and the ability to see both sides of a case has always helped my clients and that experience helps me every day in practice.
Unrepresented defendants often misunderstand a quick and terse meeting with a prosecutor as something personal against them and their case. It’s almost never the case. Prosecutors are state and municipal employees. They are often underpaid and most of the time, overworked in terms of their caseload. When you meet with them, they don’t have time to discuss the specifics of your case and will usually seem to be in a hurry. Look around the court room at all the people waiting to speak with them. They are in a hurry.
Cases are being added to their existing caseload all the time. It’s important to point this out because a prosecutor is often willing to dismiss or give a defendant a good deal if the facts and law can be shown to be in the defendant’s favor. This means the attorney representing the client has to sit down with the prosecutor, even if by telephone, and make sure the prosecutor can see the case from both sides. For a defense attorney like myself it is important that I have a solid relationship and familiarity with the prosecutor handling my client’s case. Without that relationship I may not get a call back from the prosecutor or might be given little time to go over things when I meet with them in court.
Over time, a prosecutor will know that the attorney brings a case up for a dismissal or great deal because the facts and law are solidly in the attorney’s favor. Press the button too many times and the attorney develops a reputation of not being trustworthy and this reputation will always be foremost in the mind of a prosecutor whenever they are dealing with that defense attorney. When they think of that attorney they think that the case will be bad but the attorney will say otherwise.
Now, in cases where a defendant doesn’t have the best defense at their disposal because of the strength of the prosecutor’s case, it is equally important that the attorney have a good relationship with the prosecutor. Why? Because people are people and attorneys who are liked by prosecutors almost always get a better deal than attorneys who are not liked by prosecutors. The next time you are hiring a defense attorney, ask him about his current and past relationship with the prosecutor. Most attorneys, but certainly not all, have good relationships, because they understand the value. Some attorneys do not.
My mindset when I was a prosecutor was that I tried to treat everyone the same, but I certainly had defense attorneys that I would not give a deal to because of a prior incident with them or because of their attitude towards me. Some attorneys would try to go over your head, which never worked because I had absolute discretion. Other attorneys just decided they owned the place and acted accordingly. They didn’t and that act was not welcomed.
In the St. Louis area, you may have heard that attorneys, judges and prosecutors have a huge fraternity like existence. That is overstating things quite a bit. There is some camaraderie amongst those in the profession of law. Clients don’t deal with judges and prosecutors every day. We do. So it makes sense that over time, you’re going to ask how someone’s kids are doing or talk shop. This is natural to every profession, including attorneys. Cabbies talk shop at the airport. I never assume this is bad for me. I just assume it’s two guys talking about their business because they are in the same business.
Whenever you select an attorney to represent you, my best advice is to assume how they act with you will be how they act with everyone else. Many of my colleagues are not known for their warmth and friendliness. Attorneys are infamous for being egotistical, purposely argumentative and unnecessarily blunt. But I’ve personally never understood why anyone would assume that the practice of law exempts a lawyer from treating their clients and others with respect and understanding. If you meet with an attorney and don’t like him, that’s usually a red flag that you should keep looking.