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Why Not a Female Lawyer?

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Having a female criminal defense lawyer for your sex offense trial may provide you with a unique advantage over a male defense attorney.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Sex Offense Defense Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

I recently read an article posted in The Champion, a periodical by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), written by Attorney Susan K. Borzorgi, their president.  The article was entitled "Women in Criminal Defense".  The quote that caught my eye was "[t]oday women make up 31 percent of practicing lawyers in the United States and just over 20 percent of NACDL members."  While that seems like a lot, it didn't really do justice to the way I perceived my profession.  I mean, "only 31%?" is what I thought.  "We're everywhere!"  But, you know what, they're really aren't that many I bet that focus their practice on the defense of those accused of sexual offenses (rape, aggravated indecent assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, among many others).

Sure, let's all face it, men dominate the courtroom in terms of their numbers.  Most lawyers are men.  Why then would I want a female, a minority, lawyer to defend me if men dominate the very system that is trying to convict me?

As I've detailed in past articles and on my website, there are some essential elements to a good sex case for a prosecutor:

  1. Physical evidence.  Is there blood, saliva, semen, DNA, bruising, abrasions, hymenal tearing, and scarring that tend to corroborate the testimony of the victim and the professional witnesses testifying on behalf of the prosecution?
  2. Confession or admission to some or all of the facts by the accused.
  3. Compelling testimony by the victim.  Is the victim/witness consistent in their account of the incident to the police, prosecutor, nurse, professional interviewers, victim-witness advocates, parents, and any others that may have heard their statements.  Don't forget that victims sometimes Tweet or Facebook the darndest things.  (See link to past article on using Social Media against a victim).

Compelling Testimony by the Victim

Here's the unfortunate reality about the testimony of a victim, especially a child victim.  For the most part, jurors want to believe the victim when they say "something happened".  "Why would they lie?  Especially a kid."  That's what jurors are all thinking during the trial, let's be honest.  But, if there's a lack of physical evidence and the accused never said "it happened", but adamantly denies the event; it turns into a "he said, she said".  Who do you believe more?  That's where I come in and thrive.

Women are Perceived as Protectors of Innocence

Perception of the accused.  Having a six foot blonde sitting next to you with red lipstick says "that guy must not be all that bad, she's sitting next to him."  I mean really, when's the last time you saw a guy at a bar with an attractive woman and thought that the guy was awful.  The average juror, whether consciously or unconsciously is going to have to admit to themselves that the accused looks better in that light.  "He must not be all that bad, if SHE believes him."  Most, if not all of my clients are very good people that find themselves in difficult circumstances.  The allegations against them make the average juror, in their mind, believe that the defendant is "creepy".  I'm not saying my clieints are creepy.  But, when the DA reads the list of charges to the jury at the outset of trial, like it or not, that's what they will think.  "CREEPY!"  My job is to take the creepy out of you.

Perception of the victim.  A child or female victim is a very, very dangerous weapon the prosecutor has available to them.  The defense lawyer comes in too hard on them and now they've alienated the jury.  The jurors feel bad for the child or woman and takes it out on the defendant.  There's no verdict slip for "the defendant's guilty and his lawyer is an %^*@#%!".  I'm a mother and a lawyer.  I get to call "shenanigans!" all the time at home on my own kids.  Don't think I cannot do it effectively in the courtroom.  That teenage girl/woman cries on the stand to the prosecutor about the event, I get to reel them back in and put them back on the defensive where they belong.  I do it effectively, forcefully (if necessary), and I do it without even letting the jury know that I've made that girl look like a liar.  They just think "wow, I thought she was pretty convincing, until that female attorney started talking to her like she was cross-examining her own daughter who came in late on date night."  A woman attorney can do that, a man cannot.  It's not a matter of who's a better lawyer.  It's a matter of the way the jury perceives the lawyer and the victim interacting.

So, the next time you're shopping for an attorney to represent you on your criminal matter, think "why not a female lawyer?"  You may contact me via email or toll free at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC.

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