David Benowitz on Federal and White Collar Cases
David Benowitz is a white collar and federal criminal lawyer in DC. He answers questions below about federal prosecutors and his interest in white collar and federal cases.
Are there any types of cases you find particularly interesting or challenging?
David Benowitz: At this point in my career, I really like doing white collar work. I find it very interesting and I find that paper-driven cases, cases with a lot of documents, give you a lot of options when dealing with the witnesses that are going to come against you. For example, the trend in white collar cases right now is the government is starting to use more …. old school or street crime techniques [such as] wire taps, cooperating witnesses, witnesses with cooperating plea agreements, instead of just looking at the documents. It’s a very interesting combination, because you have documents that you can use against a government witness. Also … when you have a cooperating witness that comes in, they have such an incentive to shave their testimony or outright lie in their testimony that you really have a lot of opportunities to get good results for your client. So I really like the challenges and the new developments and the ways those cases are going right now. There’s also … much more of an opportunity to show the government — even before you get to trial — that what has occurred — even if you take the government’s version of what has occurred – is not a [crime]. There’s a level of complexity, for example, in the health and welfare benefits cases and health care fraud cases. The level of complexity and nuance is very challenging and interesting to deal with.
What types of cases are federal prosecutors most keen to pursue and what types of cases are a red flag?
David Benowitz: In federal court … the prosecutors are the most hard-charging, I think to their detriment, in child pornography cases (and) child enticement cases. Sometimes … they go too fast and don’t see the weakness in their case. I’ve gotten very good results in those cases because the government was … overzealous, in the sense of trying to take a law … and fit the facts into a law, into a statute, and they don’t always fit. For example, in child enticement cases … the law says … you cannot entice a child … to commit a sexual act. What happens though, is, you get … a client who never talked to a child, or never talked to someone who he believed to be a child or who was presented to him as a child, if there’s an undercover officer being used. They end up chatting online with, or talking on the phone with, someone who says they have access to a child. And that leads to a whole host of litigation because … at a very basic level, how can you entice a child if you never even had contact with them?
Part of the problem [is] the government is so eager to prosecute these cases that they go to these lengths that just don’t fit. They don’t fit the statute. So it leads to a lot of interesting litigation, and I’ve gotten very good results in those cases.
Understanding that point of view, does that affect the way you might handle a given case?
David Benowitz: [Yes] the case I handled most recently, I took it over from another attorney who wanted to have the client plead guilty to essentially [what he was charged with]. He was facing a mandatory ten year sentence, and (the other attorney) wanted him to plead guilty to something that was probably [going to result] in four or five years [behind bars]. I looked at the case and thought, “Wait a second, this is not going to fly on the government’s side.” I knew what I could do with the case, and we were prepared to go to trial, and finally the government backed down and offered him … a local charge, which got him much less time. He ended up doing 14 months, which was essentially just the time he had spent in pre-trial detention once we finally resolved the case. So he essentially got out at sentencing.
So we saved him a lot of time and it was because … I looked at the case and I could just see that the conduct that was alleged by the government … just didn’t fit the law. But it took a lot of work and a lot of effort and knowledge to get the government to see it my way.
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