The one that frustrates me the most as a defense attorney is the third one, i.e., your client having to plead to something he shouldn't have to. It can feel like the Twilight Zone when I'm explaining to my client that, no, he may not have done the act he's pleading to, but hey, the charges he'd go to trial on are dangerous to his long-term liberty if a jury believes the nice policeman, so he had better think hard about it. I'm usually thinking the whole time that we need to change all those rosy elementary school civic books about justice and truth in the law. I think the kids ought to know the truth about the system they'll inherit.

And you know something? Years ago I was a law and order type of guy. (I was even in favor of the "War on Drugs"! Imagine.) Before I did any criminal law, I had absolutely no idea just how bad the criminal justice system is in this country.

On the flip side, criminal defense cases, for the reasons in your post, can be extremely satisfying work. It may sound silly or quaint, but when I represent a defendant in criminal court I feel I'm upholding the priniciples of liberty and freedom. Few people think about or understand the enormous power of the state until they need a criminal defense atty, and I'm usually the only friend the defendant has standing to stand up to that power.


I enjoy helping people at their lowest point in life.


The State that I am currently practicing in (on my journeyman career) has an excellent Statewide Public Defender office. Like most PD's they are young, energetic, bright and organized. The Prosecutors, with the exception of a couple bigger city offices, work our of rural, understaffed offices with crappy law enforcement resourses and without much support and experience.

The "power and resources of the State" image doesn't ring so evident in these places, especially when the PDs send in a central crew of their best attorneys for the more serious cases. For practical purposes, the balance shifts away from the State.

The Happy Feminist

Wdegraw, I am almost wondering if you're in the same state I am in. It sounds quite familiar. I often felt very much out-resourced by the PDs but they would always tell the jury that their poor little client was going up against the "vast power and resources of the State." It always took me all my self-control not to roll my eyes.


If you're dealing with cops who want to spend time attending DARE programs rather than going to court you are probably practicing in a very small town. Never heard of that problem before.

I've never known a prosecutor who had to spend hours/days/weeks trying to convince a client to take a plea which will result in a 15 year sentence (of course not, they're prosecutors), because going to trial will all but eliminate any chance that your client will ever get out of prison alive.

It's an uneven playing field it's the prosecutor's ball. Don't forget, many judges are former prosecutors and like to still act like prosecutors.

The Happy Feminist

Yep. My experience was in a rural county so all the cases were out of small towns.

Some judges seem very prosecution oriented and others seem very defense oriented. The judge before whom I appeared most frequently was inclined to give the defense everything they asked before trial but once there was a conviction -- WHAM, he was a really tough sentencing judge.


One judge (former prosecutor - very successful prosecutor) we have in our jurisdiction is hard on all counsel (no one is as good of an attorney, or as hard working, as he was). In reality, you do get a fair trial in front of him. However, at sentencing, he will nail a defendant.


As a prosecutor, given the choice (and all other things being equal), I prefer that a defense oriented judge preside over a trial. Just as I prefer a skilled defense counsel over a crappy one. I was always afraid of jurors giving defendants the benefit of unreasonable doubt if they thought that the defense counsel was inadequate or the judge was unfairly favoring the prosecution.

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