Monday, October 8, 2012

Euphemisms and excuses.

Plain speak is good, but euphemisms are way funnier.  And excuses can be even better to those of us in the business who have heard, well, pretty much every single one there is.  I've come across a few lately, used by defense lawyers or probation officers as they work hard to paint their client's actions in a positive light., or used by those charged to explain their own actions. 
  • "He's a natural leader."   To explain: a series of bullying and otherwise aggressive acts;
  • "He's a follower."  To explain: membership in a gang;
  • "Those were not my pants."  To explain: discovery of marijuana in pocket;
  • "They're my shorts, but I loaned them to my cousin and didn't check the pockets."  To explain: as above;
  • "He's a hard-worker and motivated to provide for his family."  To explain: the ability to break into and steal from nine cars in one night;
  • "He's gifted for his age."  To explain: how a twelve-year-old was able to boost and then drive a car;
  • "He was looking forward to shop class the next day."  To explain: the screwdrivers and hammer found on the suspect at two in the morning in a parking lot.
Of course, given the difficulty of their jobs, I give much leeway to probation officers and defense attorneys in their use of the imagination.

Now, if you'll excuse me there's a defense lawyer here to see me.  He's a natural leader, so if the meeting doesn't go well please send flowers.


  1. Hilarious, as always. I often wonder what these defense attorneys must be thinking on the inside when they say such things in defense of criminals.

  2. I love this article especially the excuse ""They're my shorts, but I loaned them to my cousin and didn't check the pockets." Who loans their underwear to anyone? Or maybe you DO loan outside shorts but not inside shorts. How do the lawyers keep from laughing as they say this stuff?

  3. Lisa, speaking as a defense attorney, here is the canonical answer - in which I do believe. I'm thinking that I need to hold the state to its burden of proof and provide the most sympathetic explanation that the evidence will support for my client's conduct. It is the court's responsibility, not mine (I am an appellate attorney, so juries are not directly relevant) to ascertain the truth from the competing explanations that the prosecution and defense present.

    A more navel-gazing answer to your question would be this: I think our adversary system forces both prosecutors and defense attorneys to take extreme positions, which often don't permit us to acknowledge what we know internally is the partial truth of each others' positions. This leads to both sides often fighting heroically to pass the laugh test as they defend positions that are at times close to indefensible. (On appeal, we see the prosecution doing this as well with some frequency.) I wish there was a better, more intellectually honest way, but I'm not sure what it would be.

    And DAC - good post, I laughed.

  4. Sorry for double-posting to an old thread, DAC, but today brought this example of creative DA-side lawyering, and I thought it was a good counterpoint to your creative defense-side examples:

    The defendant and his male neighbor were engaged in a heated argument on the street, and a female neighbor called the police, claiming that the defendant had twice threatened to kill the male neighbor. The only problem? The male neighbor never heard these threats - despite standing right next to the defendant throughout the exchange. The prosecution's explanation for this? The male neighbor suffered from "hysterical deafness," don't'cha know. While "hysterical deafness" has been documented by the medical community, the prosecution forgot to introduce evidence supporting its creative theory that it was present in this case, and the jury wasn't allowed to consider it.

    I'm not telling this story to hate on prosecutors - just saying that defense attorneys aren't the only creative theorists in the business of criminal law. :)

  5. Anon - never apologize for posting here, much appreciated. Hysterical deafness? Never heard of it. Oh wait, I wasn't trying to be funny there... And don't worry, creativity amongst lawyers is alive and well, you are right.


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