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David Benowitz on Challenges and Interest in White Collar

DC white collar defense attorney David Benowitz answers questions about white collar cases and his interest in white collar criminal defense.

Are there any common challenges that you find when you’re working with white collar cases?

Answer: White collar cases can be very challenging because the law may be nebulous and may not cover the activity that everybody agrees occurred.

In white collar cases, there are a lot of scenarios where no one is disputing what was done. The question is, is it even a crime? That is the difference between white collar cases and non-white collar cases.

One of the things I love about being a criminal defense lawyer is that every case is different, every client is different. No two clients are the same. In white collar cases you find clients who — even if they’ve done what they’re accused of — you see cases where people have done things that they would never have done under normal circumstances. They’ve done it under a stressful situation. For example, when the economy collapsed, that created a lot of stress on a lot of people. And there are a lot of people who did things they wouldn’t normally have done because they were desperate. I’ve represented people like that. I have a lot of sympathy for people who get caught up in those situations.

As far as defending white collar cases, I treat every client — no matter what the potential penalty is — I treat them all like people are facing life in prison because that is what’s required. I direct all of my energy and my passion to the defense of that person.

I represent people who, after an intensive three-year investigation, the government comes up with a $1,500 gift card violation against a government employee. Literally, $1,500. And the result of that investigation is going to cost that person their job if it doesn’t turn out the right way. Here is a person who the government is trying to take everything from, and I bring my energy, passion, and knowledge to their defense.

Why do white collar cases appeal to you?

Answer: I find it interesting because as violent crime has decreased, that decrease has not been accompanied by a decrease in law enforcement resources. In Washington, DC 20 years ago, the violent crime rate was tremendous and there were a lot of law enforcement resources devoted to that. Well, as violent crime decreased, it’s not like the government stopped hiring police officers or stopped investigating crime. Law enforcement turned to different areas because they don’t want to cut law enforcement capacity. The result is investigations into things that would never be investigated otherwise.

It’s a change in the outlook on the part of law enforcement. “If we had actual violent crimes to investigate, we wouldn’t even investigate this thing. But now that we don’t have anything else to do, now we need to investigate this $1,500 gift card issue.”

That’s the problem. There’s no sense of perspective or prioritization in that sense.

And the aspect of it that I find very interesting is exploring the gray area where we’re not even sure that the activity that was undertaken is a crime. There’s such an overreach by the government in the name of “protecting society” that is misplaced.

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