Sunday, January 25, 2009

But Won't I Look Guilty?

The second step for those non-indigent defendants post-arrest, is to one or 12 lawyer's offices. There is no question at this point that the defendant is in need of criminal defense counsel, and the only issues are money, money, can the lawyer guarantee me a win, and money.

The second step for the pre-arrest-under-investigation type is often a trip inside their mind. This is where they determine that they've done nothing wrong, don't know why there was a business card with an FBI or Secret Service logo left on their doorstep, and that they will "handle this."

After Mr. pre-arrest talks to too many people about this (which is any person other than their wife or priest) someone convinces him to speak to a criminal defense lawyer.

He does so reluctantly.

He calls the office and will not tell the receptionist or the lawyer's assistant, anything. Not even his last name. They of course, are not to be trusted. They have never received a call like this.

The annoyed criminal defense lawyer takes the call with no knowledge of the facts leading up to the call. Does the lawyer represent a co-defendant? Is the lawyer otherwise conflicted out? Is the potential client a lunatic?

The conversation ensues. Answers are more opinion than fact, and generally not helpful.

This potential client may make an appointment, but whether it is there or on the initial phone call (which is getting more difficult to take as the client is now whispering from the empty office outside the conference room in which he was just meeting), the question is asked:

"But won't I look guilty if I hire you?"

That's not the full question, really. The full question is:

"I think I've done nothing wrong and I don't want anyone else to think I think I've done something wrong because if I appear to think I've done something wrong then others will assume I've done something wrong, and that's just wrong."

But to your question: "But won't I look guilty if I hire you?"

The answer is:

You already do, look guilty."

You may not look guilty to the general public because they don't yet know about the investigation. You may not look guilty to your co-workers, friends, or family because you've told them every time you've seen them or spoken to them since "the visit" or receipt of the subpoena that you are "innocent."

But you do look guilty.

You look guilty to law enforcement, the people investigating you. To them, you either look guilty, or are guilty.

They are the people that matter.

Everyone else will make up their own mind whether you hire criminal defense counsel, or continue trying to game the system with your stupidity.

There will always be a perception of guilt for someone who claims innocence and hires a criminal defense lawyer.

There will also be a perception of sickness for someone who claims to feel OK, but goes to see a doctor.

Me, when a potential client under investigation asks "but won't I look guilty if I hire you," I say, "you already do, otherwise you wouldn't be here."

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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