Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Million-Dollar Legal Advice

The more I continue to Google... uh, research... issues related to this blog, the more I find there are professionals out there who have already expressed my views eloquently. Usually they are federal defense lawyers (who, oftentimes, used to be federal prosecutors!).

I recently found a new site -- -- operated by Mark Bennett, a federal defense lawyer in Houston.

He offers his "million-dollar legal advice" :


Like most people in America, I used to believe that cops (federal or local) were "the good guys." I also used to believe "if you're innocent, you have nothing to hide."

The Rabbit Hole cured me of these naive misconceptions.

Unfortunately, if you are reading this, it's probably too late to help. The people who need to read this don't realize they need to read this.

This is the key excerpt:
When the police want to talk to you, it's not for your own good. They're not looking for evidence to clear you. They're looking for evidence against you. They're looking to twist whatever you say -- true or false -- against you.

This is SO true.The cops are not looking for truth, they are looking for evidence.

What's the difference you ask? Evidence is truth with an ulterior motive. In other words, evidence is half-truth (if that). Ironically, and counter-intuitively, this advice -- not talking to federal agents -- is most important if you are truly innocent. Unfortunately, while guilty people may understandably be reluctant, and shrewd enough not, to talk to cops, innocent people are easily ambushed and, unaware of any wrongdoing, see no harm in talking.

BIG mistake.

The best decision I ever made when 7 FBI agents raided my home at 6a and pulled me out of bed stark naked (!), was refuse to answer any more questions (after confirming my identity and ownership of my home-based business) until I talked to my attorney. They immediately stopped questioning me and executed the search warrant (authorizing them to seize all my computers). I had no idea initially why they were there but, after reading the search warrant and sensing quickly where the conversation was heading, I nipped that sucker in the bud.

My wife was not so fortunate. The agents had immediately separated us into different rooms and continued to question her. Had I really had my senses about me, I would have found her and told her she didn't need to talk. They thoroughly intimidated and attempted to humiliate her into giving up information -- the whole experience was very heavy-handed. Fortunately, I guess nothing she said must have been incriminating because the prosecutor never mentioned it.

Case example of failure to follow this advice:

In an earlier post, I referenced the case of a fellow inmate who was convicted in a jury trial of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. He was the outside accountant for a chain of gift shops in central Florida. He claims no knowledge of the illegal hiring (the issue of how mere hiring of illegal aliens -- a civil offense -- turned into harboring illegal aliens -- a criminal offense -- is a different story).

He testified in his own defense (a very difficult and tricky decision because, in addition to the risk of being cross-examined by the prosecutors, if you are convicted, your sentence can be enhanced for "perjury" even if you are never actually charged with perjury... I kid you not!), denying any knowledge.

The jury didn't believe him. Fifty year old man. Devout Mormon. Married 30+ years, Father of 7. Impeccable reputation. And the jury didn't believe him.


Because he talked to federal agents and their version of the conversation differed from his version.

And the jury will always believe an FBI agent's testimony over that of a defendant. A jury simply cannot conceive that a government agent (FBI, police, whatever) would lie. And those people who can conceive of such an act do not end up on juries.

In this defendant's case, he was returning from New York and was essentially ambushed at the airport by agents wanting to question him about his "client." Unfortunately for him, since he was innocent and therefore "had nothing to hide," he spoke freely. Too freely as it turns out. The more you talk, the greater the opportunity for your "testimony" to be twisted into something you never said or never meant.

He had been offered a probation deal to testify against his client (the same deal most of the internal accounting people took) which he refused. He is now serving 48 months in Pensacola federal prison camp. His wife and children visit every weekend. Great man. Wonderful family.

His big mistake?

He shouldn't have talked to federal agents.

1 comment:

Paul Eilers said...

(shaking my head)


Eat Well. Live Well.