Hint: They Aren't What You Think
Perspective: What a Former Prosecutor brings to the modern Criminal Defense firm.
Florida lawyer advertising is a very heavily regulated area; the Florida Bar worries that we lawyers can cloud clients' minds with our supernatural powers of persuasion, so they have passed very strict rules on what we can and cannot say in advertising. One thing we are allowed to talk about is our prior work experience, although it gets a bit dicey regarding past results; we have to be very specific and able to verify the claims we make, which is why we post a link to the actual court verdicts and cases.
Many lawyers proudly exclaim they are FORMER PROSECUTORS in their advertising, as if that fact alone makes them the ideal candidate to defend a criminal case. Perhaps clients think hiring a former prosecutor means you will get great deals from their old buddies at the State (news flash - you don't!) or that they have some special connection with the judge (wrong again - no ethical judge plays favorites). In reality, a prosecutor or a public defender, like any lawyer, is only as good as their experience, work ethic, and dedication.
When you graduate law school, you do not know how to really try cases. Many attorneys begin their careers working for the State Attorney's Office because it is an excellent way to learn how to practice criminal law and get exposure to trial work. Prosecutors get a lot of hands on experience very quickly, and this can really help a new lawyer become an experienced trial attorney. That being said, how long someone worked at the State Attorney's Office matters just as much as what they did there.
A prosecutor represents the government at either a state or federal level, has the burden of producing competent and substantial evidence, and, if the case proceeds to trial, of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the person they have accused of a crime is guilty of that crime. A prosecutor is the most powerful person in the room in a criminal case because they can decide to dismiss the charges, change the charges, and even offer a plea deal - things that not even the judge can do. A prosecutor decides what charges to bring, if any, and what punishment to seek.
Sure, a former prosecutor may have some friends left at the State, but that generally only means a higher chance of getting a call through or returned. At most State Attorneys' Offices, the staff changes constantly. But what does not change is the prosecutorial mindset and their role in the criminal justice system. A former prosecutor speaks the same language as a current prosecutor and knows what kind of pressures they are facing in a case, whether it is a political pressure, pressure from a victim, or a judge whose policies push the prosecutor in a particular direction. Simply put, a former prosecutor not only understands the mindset of the State Attorney's Office and current prosecutor's role, but can use that understanding and experience to help their clients.
However, not every prosecutor can or will want to defend people accused of crimes. For some people, being a prosecutor is a calling and they have no interest in the other side. For others, it was a stepping stone into the legal system. The kind of former prosecutor also matters; there are many criminal defense attorneys who claim to be former prosecutors, and that may be true, but they may have only spent a year or two in county or misdemeanor court and may not have any trial experience.
While many attorneys practice law without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom, an experienced prosecutor has spent many years in their career litigating cases in court. Even for attorneys whose primary role is in litigation, most cases that are filed are never contested and are resolved without a trial. An attorney who has had the opportunity to work every day in a criminal courtroom will be better equipped to defend your case should it have to go to trial.
A former prosecutor will also have a unique perspective on how the government will gather evidence and how they will attempt to present that evidence in court. Someone with many years of experience will have worked with hundreds of police officers and detectives, knows firsthand the techniques and manners in which evidence is supposed to be gathered, and how a simple and honest mistake by a law enforcement officer in the gathering of evidence or other information can drastically affect how your case resolves and what evidence may be available against you.
Where your criminal defense attorney was a former prosecutor is also important and should be something you consider when choosing an attorney. A prosecutor who was in the courtroom of a specific judge - or all of the judges in a county - can give you insight as to how your judge may rule in your case and if he or she is generally tough or lenient on the type of crime you have been charged with. Having that kind of insight and experience can help your attorney advise you how to move forward with your case, whether it be towards a trial or to seek a resolution through a plea. You ultimately have to make the decision, but having a former prosecutor as your criminal defense attorney gives you additional information and a very unique and enlightening perspective that allows you to make the best decision on how to resolve your case.
Being a former prosecutor in and of itself is not more meaningful than being any other kind of lawyer. What matters is what that person took from the job and what they can use from their time there to help defend an accused individual. If you or a loved one have been arrested, you are facing criminal charges, and selecting the right attorney to represent you is one of the most crucial decisions you can make in the hours and days following your arrest.
Selecting an attorney should not be an afterthought and choosing an attorney without the experience you need can have long-term damaging effects on you and your loved ones. The world in which we all find ourselves has become increasingly less tolerant of any crime, and unfortunately that means that some people who made one mistake are grouped in with those people who have chosen a life of crime as their profession. Having an attorney who understands this and can help clients navigate the dangerous waters of the criminal justice system safely is incredibly important.
If you are interested in finding an attorney with many years of experience in the field of criminal law, and someone who has prosecuted thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases is crucial, the only way to find out is to ask when you meet with an attorney. Not asking questions about experience is one of the biggest mistakes someone can make when meeting with an attorney for the first time. How many jury trials has the person tried? How long have they been an attorney? How many cases like yours have they handled? Every case is unique with very specific facts, but if you are charged with a very serious felony crime, you may want to know if the attorney you may be hiring to represent you has ever handled a case with those consequences.
For example, if a criminal defense attorney is a former prosecutor who has handled every misdemeanor - from Driving While License Suspended to Domestic Battery to DUI - and every felony - including Murder, Sexual Battery, Lewd & Lascivious Offenses, Felony Battery and Trafficking in Narcotics - that person’s experience will be essential to defending you.
Defending a client accused of any crime, from a simple driving charge all the way up to First Degree Murder, is a complicated matter because all criminal cases involve the possibility of jail or prison time, monetary fines, and should not be taken lightly. A criminal case may include pre-trial motions, jury selection, cross examination of State (prosecution) witnesses, presentation of defense evidence or witnesses, arguments to the judge and jury, and deciding the appropriate jury instructions to be given to the jury.
The firsthand knowledge of a former prosecutor is similar to a quarterback from one team being traded and then being on the sideline with the Defensive Coordinator the following week when playing his former team, making sure that the defense on his new team knows what to look for and what adjustments to make in their game plan. Having an experienced former prosecutor as your criminal defense attorney will almost guarantee that your attorney will have the prior jury trial and motion practice experience to provide you with the best defense possible for the facts of your case.