By Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Cynicism is defined by Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary as, “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest,” or people are”selfish and dishonest in a way that shows no concern about treating other people fairly.”
I’m writing about cynicism today because it is the cancer from which our criminal justice system suffers most. The cynicism I’m writing about today is all too often from law enforcement, probation officers, prosecutors, Judges, and even my own which I battle like everyone else.
When I talk to clients, I describe cynicism as a “headwind” which makes our fight tougher than it might appear. On a DWI, for example, I tell people everyone in the Courthouse will treat you like an alcoholic even if you had your first drink of alcohol the night you were arrested.
Everyone has their own world view – especially related to their job. I understand everything I see and experience through my practice shapes my view of how people are and the world around me. When dealing with people, it is important to know how their every-day job and life experiences shape their views.
As an example, I remember being a waiter during college and falling into the mental trap of occasionally judging people based on how they tipped. I knew in the back of my mind then — as I am sure today — the judgments I was making were of only an ever-so-thin slice of my experience with a person. A big tipper might otherwise be a total jerk. A bad tipper may be a great mother, father or neighbor who just wasn’t carrying as much cash as they thought they were going to need that day.
I feel lucky to meet with people who need help when they come see me. So I tend to see people and their families when they are reticent, respectful and often in desperate search of hope and guidance. My view of “the system” then, is someone charged with a crime is vulnerable and in great need of counsel and support.
But I know not everyone sees it that way.
World Views of Those in the Criminal Justice System
I have to remind myself the people dealing with my clients only get a thin slice of them. To some police my client might be just the crime they were accused of instead of a person. To some prosecutors my client might just be another file. To some judges my client might just be another schmo needing mercy. Many of these professionals can allow cynicism to get the better of them. Everything they hear and see can be a lame excuse.
Fighting the pre-existing views of someone can not only be daunting but sometimes downright impossible. Think of how impossible it can be to change someone’s political, religious or even sports opinions. Instead of attacking the cynicism head on (and losing), it’s often the better play to incorporate the strengths of our arguments into what the prosecutor or judge already believes.
An example might be showing a prosecutor who is convinced everyone charged with certain crimes are drug addicts my client is clean and has a plan to stay clean. This out-flanks the opponent and takes away all the oxygen from their fire. If they’re still going to be mad at the accused then they could be exposed as being unreasonable to a Judge or Jury.
Sometimes the cynicism we are dealing with is too great. No matter what I say or do I can’t convince someone “who knows it all” otherwise. Sometimes we have to fight in court and see what a jury thinks. Even if the prosecutor and judge don’t get it — a Jury still can.
Did you catch it? I have to remind myself that even though others I deal with might disagree with me… or seem to know it all… I have to carefully listen and be mindful of their point of view before I get cynical about their views.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For advice on any situation contact an attorney directly.