Step one of becoming a criminal defense attorney after years as a prosecutor was learning that clients have entrenched, bizarre, misinformed ideas of how the criminal justice system works.
Step two was learning how to persuade clients gently that these entrenched ideas were not true or accurate without mortally offending them or accidentally convincing them that I am some sort of secret flunky for The Man.
Step three has been realizing that client delusions can be useful, even beneficial, and that it is counterproductive to cure them. Case in point: an astonishing percentage of clients, charged with an astonishing array of banal offenses, come to me convinced that their phones are being tapped by the government. If they aren't connected to a multi-kilo drug trafficking organization, organized crime, terrorism, or an extremely significant crime, that's actually highly unlikely. Wiretaps are a gigantic pain in the ass. Even if you think the universe revolves around you, Mr. Client, the U.S. Attorney's office isn't going to be filling out the mountain of paperwork to go up on a wire on your hundred-thousand-dollar fraud case. I spent huge amounts of time explaining this patiently to clients: no, no, it's not that your affairs are insignificant, exactly; it's just that it's terribly unlikely that the government would choose to pursue them with a wiretap.
Suddenly it hit me. These people are motormouths. They refuse to heed my favorite advice. That's often why they are in trouble in the first place. This level of paranoia is useful for client control. Why the hell am I trying to convince them that they aren't being wiretapped, when that will simply encourage them to call everyone they know (like probable government witnesses) to talk about their case? Why am I not recognizing their paranoia as a power for good?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- I Stand, Despite - August 30th, 2016
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- Gawker, Money, Speech, And Justice - August 18th, 2016
- Lawsplainer: No, Donald Trump's "Second Amendment" Comment Isn't Criminal - August 9th, 2016
- Why Openness About Mental Illness is Worth The Effort And Discomfort - August 9th, 2016