When a Defense Lawyer Says, “Don’t Rock the Boat…”

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What would you think if you meet with a defense lawyer who tells you, “Don’t rock the boat” in your first meeting?

What do they mean? You aren’t going to get a “good deal” if you “rock the boat?” Are they afraid of damaging their relationship with the police or prosecutors?


If you are facing criminal charges, whether it is a speeding ticket that may affect your driver’s license and insurance premiums or a murder charge that could land you in prison for the rest of your life, you want a defense lawyer who is not afraid to rock the boat.

You need to rock the boat – hell, you want to sink the boat if it means winning your case.


If I Make the Police (or Prosecutor) Mad I Won’t Get Good Deals for My Clients

I’ve heard too many defense lawyers say some version of, “If I rock the boat, I won’t get good deals for my clients from the prosecutor (or police officer, or judge).”

At risk of “rocking the boat” here and now, I don’t mind saying that’s bulls**t.

You get good deals in your cases because you rock the boat. When you try every case you can, investigate every case in preparation for trial, refuse to accept crap plea offers, and fight for each client, you will get clients’ cases dismissed and you will get reasonable plea offers.

When you have a reputation for not demanding full discovery, not filing motions, not investigating your cases, forcing your clients into guilty pleas they don’t want to accept, and only going to trial when your “difficult client” forces you to trial, you will not “get good deals” for your clients.

You will get partial discovery (because you have a reputation for not demanding full discovery), and you will get crap plea offers. Maybe a police officer or prosecutor will like you more because you don’t make them work hard, but, more likely, they have no respect for you as an attorney. Why would they if you are not zealously advocating for your clients?

You aren’t trying to get good deals by not working. You are just lazy, and everyone sees it.

I’m a Politician (Or Maybe I’ll Run for Office One Day, Or Maybe I’ll Want to be a Judge One Day)

If you are a politician, or if you are keeping your political options open, or if you think you might want to be a judge one day, and if any of those facts prevents you from zealously representing a client charged with a crime, stop taking criminal defense cases.

Yes, if you have political aspirations, someone someday might attack you because you represented someone charged with a crime. If you don’t think you’ll be able to handle that, you should not be taking money from people to represent them in criminal cases.

Car wrecks pay much better. Do that.

Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You

But what if the government signs your paycheck? Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, right?


You are getting paid to bite the hand that feeds you. Granted, some circuit public defenders don’t want their rank-and-file public defenders or conflict attorneys “rocking the boat.”

If that’s the case, let them fire you. Find work somewhere else. Anytime financial considerations create a conflict with your duty to your clients, run. If your caseload is too high to ethically represent your clients, your job is to raise hell, fight for funding, turn down cases, and lose your job rather than participate in an unethical system where your clients are not getting the representation they are entitled to.

What is My Obligation to My Client?

My job is to win my client’s case, using every means that is legally and ethically possible.

In most cases, that means dismissal or my best efforts at an acquittal at trial. In other cases, it could mean a plea offer to a fine, a plea offer with no jail time, a rewrite of a traffic ticket without points on your license, a bond reduction, or pretrial diversion.

My duty is always to my client. My duty is to each client – whether a bare-knuckled brawl in one case will affect other cases is never a consideration, nor should it be.

I have a duty to zealously represent each client, to maintain their confidences, to independently investigate each case, to file all motions that are helpful and have a basis in the law, and to allow my client to choose whether they accept a plea offer or demand a jury trial.

Sometimes, You Have to Sink the Boat

Don’t rock the boat?

There are times, when it is necessary and it may help our client avoid jail or reach their goal, to blow it up and sink the boat.

I’ve watched a defense lawyer carefully and respectfully make a record throughout a criminal trial of the trial judge’s incompetency due to the judge’s advanced age and illness – at every break and every time the jury left the room, as the trial judge yelled at the attorney, and as local attorneys filled the courtroom to watch.

I’ve seen defense lawyers file grievances on prosecutors, knowing that the Office of Disciplinary Counsel would 1) not take action and 2) possibly punish the defense lawyer, because it was the right thing to do, and it was necessary.

I’ve seen a defense lawyer turn down an offer of probation in a murder trial without putting undue pressure on their client because their client immediately and firmly rejected the offer.

I’ve seen defense lawyers file motions to recuse a judge or a prosecutor without concern for the angry backlash that it caused because it was necessary.

I’ve seen defense attorneys accuse prosecutors and police officers in open court of committing ethical violations and crimes, because they committed ethical violations and crimes, and because, although the trial court “covered” for them, it was necessary to make a record of what had happened for a possible appeal.

File motions. Move to recuse the judge or prosecutor when necessary. Point out shady or criminal conduct by prosecutors and judges. Reject unreasonable plea offers. Reject reasonable plea offers when it’s what your client wants. Play trial chicken by default and try every case where your client wants a trial.

If you are a criminal defense lawyer, and if you aren’t making someone angry, you probably aren’t doing your job.

Rock the boat.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, Lexington, Myrtle Beach, SC

The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.

If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.