Conflict in the Courtroom: Cops & Counselors — a guest post

Today we welcome to the blog Micki Browning, a veteran police officer, now retired and spinning tales of murder and mayhem in Colorado and the Florida Keys, sharing her perspective of the critical relationships between police officers, prosecutors, and defense counsel. Welcome, Micki! 

Conflict in the Courtroom: Cops & Counselors

Cops and counselors work together on a regular basis. How well they get along is often determined by which table the attorney sits at in the courtroom. Sometimes only inches separate the tables, but the span is often insurmountable. While I’m fairly certain there are at least a few amiable defense lawyers in this world, you’d be hard pressed to find an officer who will admit to meeting one. So why the disparity? After all, attorneys practicing criminal law all use the same playbook. To be fair, everyone is striving for justice, yet from a cop’s perspective, defense attorneys have a huge PR problem. They’re batting for the wrong team.

You see, police officers form strong relationships with prosecutors based on mutual respect. This camaraderie is forged through the shared goal of ridding the streets of ne’er-do-wells. Sometimes, the lead investigator will share the prosecutor’s table and act as an advisor throughout the trial. Heck, sometimes they’ll even discuss the case over drinks, or a pickup game of basketball, or at the Fourth of July picnic.

They become friends.

An Adversarial System

The United States judicial system is adversarial. Defense attorneys make their living defending the same person the cop went to a great deal of trouble to arrest. This creates a philosophical difference of opinion about the character of the accused and the merits of the case. Officers don’t arrest innocent people. Or so they’d like to think. Does it happen? Absolutely. Does it change how we think of the defense team? Not a whit. If a cop and a defense attorney drink together, someone’s about to sip arsenic, their pickup game will end in sudden death, and the only reason to show up to the Fourth of July picnic is because there was a noise complaint and the officer is on-duty.

While most officers believe that defense attorneys inhabit a tenth ring not envisioned by Dante, occasionally, even a prosecutor fans the flames. Law enforcement investigators present their cases to the prosecutor’s office when they feel it is a complete package— a conclusion not always shared by the prosecutor. This disparate perspective often arises from standards that are triggered at various phases of an investigation. For example, an officer only needs probable cause to believe a person committed a crime in order to make an arrest or pursue a warrant. But to secure a conviction, the prosecutor must present a case that demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the person did the dirty deed. Big difference—and one that can foster animosity between an officer who knows said knucklehead did wrong, and a prosecutor who may agree, but can’t prove it.

Evidence Is Not Truth

Despite what cops, attorneys and expert witnesses claim, evidence, on its own, is not truth. Evidence supports or undermines an argument. There is rarely a smoking gun and instead, evidence is pieced together until a reasonable conclusion can be drawn. Police officers testify to what they observed, the actions they took, and the items they gathered. I’ve presented evidence that has helped both the prosecution and the defense in the same trial. My job is to present the facts without embellishment or bias. It is the prosecutor’s job to build it up, and the defense attorney’s task to tear it down. One way the defense team attacks the validity of evidence is to attack the credibility of the officer presenting it. It’s hard to leave a courtroom feeling warm fuzzies for an attorney who just tried to convince the jury that you are an unprofessional nincompoop.

Crime and Punishment

Call it petty, but when the defense prevails, a cop’s first thought is that a miscarriage of justice took place, not that his or her own lack of preparation or investigation played a part. Truth is, it’s difficult to obtain a conviction. A key piece of evidence at trial may be been overlooked at the initial investigation, witnesses recant, juries are fickle and media coverage can sway perception.

What’s this mean for your writing? Everyone in a courtroom can feel righteous, but not everyone can be right. Opportunities for conflict abound. After all, it’s an adversarial system.

Micki Browning


MICKI BROWNING, an FBI National Academy graduate, worked in law enforcement for over two decades. She retired as a division commander leading the investigations, internal affairs, and training bureaus. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime and active in the Guppies chapter.


The Saturday Writing Quote — on euphemisms

There’s a passage in the semi-autobi0graphical novel, set mainly in the 1930s, A Bird in the House (1970) by the Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence that always makes me smile. Young Vanessa refers to a friend’s family as “broke.” Her grandmother, who lives with Vanessa and her parents, chides her. “Vanessa, don’t use slang. If you mean they’re hard up, say they’re hard up.”

Here’s a more academic take on my smile:

“This is the usual destiny of euphemisms; in order to avoid the real name of what is thought indecent or improper people use some innocent word. But when that becomes habitual in this sense it becomes just as objectionable as the word it has ousted and now is rejected in its turn.” Otto Jespersen, Growth and Structure of the English Language 258 (9th ed. 1938).

(Quote via Garner’s Modern American Usage daily blog.)

Supreme Court Trivia

Reblogging today, from NW Sidebar, the blog of the Washington State Bar Association, with thanks to blogger Shanna Lisberg.

When I first started law school and began reading opinions, I was surprised to see how many judges and justices had first names starting with J. After all, they signed their opinions “Harlan, J.” and “Marshall, J.” Took me longer than it should to have to realize that J. stood for Justice or Judge, not John or James…

“The Supreme Court of the United States first convened on Feb. 2, 1790, in New York City. Over the past 220 years, the composition of the Court has undergone many changes. Prior to the Supreme Court Building’s completion in 1935, the Court had met in a variety of locations and, to date, 108 men and four women have served on the court. From the most common first name of Supreme Court Justices, to relatives serving on the court, here are five facts you may not know about our highest court in the land.

  1. Of the 112 justices appointed to the court, 13 have been named John and 11 have been named William. Of the 17 chief justices of the United States, four have been named John, including John Jay, the first chief justice, and our current chief justice, John Roberts.
  1. Justice Clarence Thomas is the only justice to have served as grand marshal at the Daytona 500. He is a NASCAR fanatic and car enthusiast and enjoys traveling the country in his RV, frequently parking overnight at Wal-Mart parking lots.
  1. Thomas Johnson had the shortest tenure on the Court. Justice Johnson was confirmed by the Senate on Nov. 7, 1791, and was sworn in on Aug. 6, 1792. He authored the Court’s first written opinion and served on the court until Jan. 16, 1793, when he resigned, citing poor health and the difficulties of circuit riding. He served 163 days.
  1. There have been multiple instances of relatives serving on the court. Justices John Marshall Harlan (1877–1911) and John Marshall Harlan II (1955–71) were grandfather and grandson. John Marshall Harlan is best known for his role as the lone dissenter in the Civil Rights Cases andPlessy v. Ferguson. Justices Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II (1888–93) and Joseph Lamar (1910–16) were cousins. Justices Stephen Johnson Field (1863–97) and David Josiah Brewer (1889–1910) were uncle and nephew and served on the court together from 1889 to 1897.
  1. Justice Byron (“Whizzer”) White is the only justice to be in the College Football Hall of Fame. He also played for both the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) and the Detroit Lions, and led the league in rushing yards in 1938 and 1940. He earned $15,000 a year, making him one of the first “big money” NFL players.
About the Author

Shanna LisbergShanna Lisberg. Shanna is an attorney who lives and works in Seattle. You can find her most weekends at either the bookstore or library, adding books to her never ending to-read pile.”

Summer in the sun with a good book!

IMGP2323Thanks to everyone who came out to the Jewel Bay — oops, I mean Bigfork Festival of the Arts this weekend! I’m still there today, Sunday August 3, so if you’re in the Flathead Valley, come down to the Village for arts and food fun!

Celebration! Readers of the Bigfork Eagle, the local paper, named me “Best Local Author”! Thank you!

And both Crime Rib and Death al Dente made the Seattle Mystery Bookshop‘s July bestseller list! Smoocheroos to everyone who helped.

A fun interview: This week, I’ll be interviewed at Cozy Up with Kathy, who asks a few questions I haven’t been asked before.

The giveaway at Escape with Dollycas continues until August 6. If you haven’t read my essay on why I write about Montana, the Last Best Place to Hide, stop by — and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Crime Rib. There’s also a wonderful review of the book.

huckleberry mousse & berriesYou know how Erin and I love huckleberries! So if you didn’t get a chance to join us — well, me — this weekend, pop up to Whitefish anytime this Fri, Sat, or Sun and visit me at Huckleberry Days in Depot Park. I’ll be chatting mysteries and signing copies of Crime Rib and Death al Dente. And if it’s made with hucks, you’ll find it at the Festival, so come on down!

Pictured: my Huckleberry Chocolate Mousse. Here’s the recipe.

Thanks so much for sharing in the fun of launching Crime Rib into the world!