It is among the more thankless jobs in the legal arena. Criminal defense attorneys, who stand beside clients accused of everything from minor crimes into mass murder, should mount the best defense of their customer possible however heinous the crime.
In their opinion, that is missing the point. In addition to making sure that the scales of justice are balanced, las vegas criminal justice lawyer find satisfaction in tackling cases with large stakes. “It is a nothing game,” says Jeffrey Lichtman, a New York-based lawyer that has represented John A. Gotti and accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin”El Chapo” Guzman. “It’s win or lose. There’s pressure, excitement, and responsibility in being a criminal suspect’s only support and protector.”
To acquire a better comprehension of this often emotionally draining function, Mental Floss spoke with three high-profile defense attorneys. Along with Lichtman, we spoke to Chris Tritico–that the subject of the initial episode of Oxygen’s In Defense Of docuseries premiering June 25, and who represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 1997–as well as Bryan Gates, practicing in North Carolina. Here is what they shared about lifestyle as a devil’s advocate.
1. ATTORNEYS DON’T ALLOW THEIR PERSONAL FEELINGS TO TRUMP DUE PROCESS.
Some defendants have obviously committed terrible crimes, but they nevertheless have constitutional rights–so lawyers don’t let their private feelings about a crime put in the way of a client’s defense. “There’s never been a day I stood up for someone accused of a crime where I would endorse that crime,” says Tritico. But McVeigh must be protected and his rights have to be shielded. People like me have to be willing to stand up and say,’I will stand up for you.’ You do it McVeigh and you also do it for everybody.”
- BONDING WITH CLIENTS IS KEY, REGARDLESS OF THE CRIME.
It can be tough to find common ground with someone accused of misdeeds which could land them life in prison or even a death sentence, but defense lawyers say that there’s usually a way to relate to their own customers as human beings–and the case will probably be better off for this. Lichtman became friendly with Gotti by talking family; Tritico discovered McVeigh to be amiable. “I wanted Tim to enjoy me and that I wanted to enjoy him,” he says. “I wanted him to trust my conclusions. It doesn’t occur every time, but the vast majority of this time, I like them.”
- THEY RESEARCH JURORS’ BACKGROUNDS.
Assessing a potential juror, called voir dire, is an artwork. Both prosecution and defense want men and women in the jury box that can be scrapped, though circumstances are often stacked against the defense. “The jury is coming in prepared to defraud, as no one generally supports offense,” Lichtman says.
When quizzing prospective participants, Lichtman speaks fast:”I’m speaking a-mile-a-minute, trying to acquire the potentially problematic jurors to knowingly or unwittingly expose their natural biases so I can get them kicked off the panel for cause. The jurors who I believe can continue to keep an open mind or are anti-police I will not question in any way, because I am afraid they will reveal those biases and get struck by the prosecutor if he uses a peremptory challenge [an objection to a juror].”
Once in court, Lichtman focuses on finding the one person from the box of 12 to connect with. “I look up the backgrounds of jurors,” he states. “I’m searching for anything in the desktop that I can exploit so as to tailor my summation to something that has happened in their own lives.”
4.THEY’RE ALWAYS WATCHING THE JURY’S BODY LANGUAGE.
Keeping tabs on a jury means being able to estimate which direction they’re leaning. Lichtman says body language may tell him a whole lot. “You can feel the way the trial is going,” he says. Jurors who laugh or smile at his jokes are on his side. Jurors switching away from him aren’t. “You can tell who’s following you. They are energized by your arguments.”
Assessing how jurors are reacting allows Lichtman to create real-time alterations to his arguments. “As I am questioning a note or beseeching the jury during a summation, when I see someone turn away from me, I maintain that juror in your mind and what may have turned him off or her, and try to rectify or speech it down the road,” he says. “When I have somebody laughing, I understand that there is a juror who may not be acquitting my client but he or she is at least open to it, so I spend a lot of time working on these “
5. THERE’S A REASON THEY STAND SO CLOSE TO THEIR CLIENTS.
The picture of a lawyer standing up next to their customer since the verdict is being read is usually interpreted as a indication of solidarity, but lawyers might have another reason. Tritico says that early in his career, he took to a client charged with prosecution. Despite Tritico’s information to take a plea bargain, the guy took his opportunity at trial–and dropped. His sentence was 40 decades. “I was considering the jury since the verdict was read and sensed something going,” he says. “He had passed out. From that point forward, I always catch my client by the arm to be certain that doesn’t occur again.”
On occasion, it’s the lawyer who might require the help. According to Tritico, hearing that a person being sentenced to death, as he did McVeigh,”might be the most sobering thing you will ever hear in your lifetime.”
- A CLIENT CAN BE THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY.
The adage about nevertalking to authorities without an attorney present? It is probably the single best piece of advice any defendant could ever get, however many still refuse to allow the message sink . “I can not think of anyone who has ever talked their way out of being charged,” Gates says.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Defendants idling in jail prior to their court dates could end up digging themselves a much deeper hole. “They’ll write letters to individuals. The district attorney, at least in North Carolina, can get a copy. It may not be an outright confession, however there may be things which will not put them in the best light. Phone calls will be the same” If they’re upset with their adviser, some customers will even write letters of complaint to the DA or a judge, which may let slip some damning information that can be used against them afterwards. “That will just devastate a case,” Gates says.
7. THEY GET HATE MAIL.
Representing public figures like John A. Gotti, the son of notorious mafia figure John Gotti, frequently leads to attorneys being contradicted by institution. Lichtman used to get hate email, which later morphed into hatred e-mail along with other displays of contempt. “I have been spitwalking into court,” he says. “I’ve been [called names] while sitting at the defense table by a witness walking off whose clock I just cleaned.” None of the vitriol has impacted Lichtman’s push to mount the best defense possible for his customers. “I’ve never once apologized for what I do. Representing a suspected murderer doesn’t mean I am pro-murder.”
- INNOCENT DEFENDANTS CAN MAKE THEIR WORK HARDER.
It may appear to be an innocent client would be easier to guard. But according to Gates, obtaining a strong impression that a client is falsely accused generates extra strain on the protection. “It is very stressful as you are really identifying with the person,” he says. While no attorney wants to see any customer found guilty, it can be gut-wrenching to know the person may be punished for something that they didn’t do. “We had one lawyer here [in North Carolina] who worked for 15 years to get someone he believed was wrongfully accused, and that he was finally able to show it.” But that’s unusual–more frequently, attorneys suspect their clients are innocent and need to look on as juries convict them.