Criminal Defense Questions and Answers
Q: You mentioned on your website “former prosecutor.” Why is that an important qualification for a defense attorney?
A: It’s important to be able to see the process from both sides. As a prosecutor, your job is to do justice. That’s the general job of a prosecutor. But in doing that, the prosecutor’s job is to build cases, and, as a former prosecutor, I know what it takes for a prosecutor to build a case. I know that they need certain elements, that they need certain witnesses, and what it takes to build a case. I’m able to see it from their side. Oftentimes, as a defense attorney, you don’t have all the information you would like. But by being able to put myself in the shoes of a prosecutor, I can, with some amount of experience and guidance, speculate as to what they may have, what they likely have, what they probably don’t have and can move and make better decisions and give better advice because I’m familiar with what a prosecutor must have to make their case.
It’s an adversarial process and having the perspective from both sides gives me added insights and helps me to give advice to my clients.
Q: As a prosecutor, did you prosecute pretty much the entire spectrum of criminal charges, or was it in a narrow specialty?
A: Over my career, it’s been everything from misdemeanors such as simple battery, a bar fight, DWI, through sex offenses, rape, child molestation, securities fraud, individual drug possession, drug sales, larger drug trafficking conspiracies, drug manufacturing cases; violent crimes from simple assaults to malice or first degree murder. I’ve handled individuals who commit crimes and large groups who commit crimes. In the later part of my career, I focused on organized criminal groups. Through the course of my career I’ve handled cases that run the entire gamut from very simple to very complex.
Q: When someone suddenly finds themselves in trouble, they may panic and make mistakes. What advice would you give to someone in this situation?
A: One thing I find, and keeps getting affirmed to me, is that before anyone speaks to the police or to a DA’s office, they should absolutely consult with an attorney. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve started cases where I’ve learned the person has already spoken with investigators or a detective, and they’ve given statements that are not helpful to them in their case. If I had been their attorney, I’d have advised them and protected them in that stage of the proceedings. If anyone is arrested or charged, or suspects that they are being investigated, they should absolutely consult with an attorney, an experienced criminal attorney who can best protect them.
Perhaps they have some information that they should and want to share with authorities, and an attorney can protect them when they do that. They can go in and unwittingly think they’re simply helping out, but they’ve talked their way into getting charged.
A person should have an attorney there, a confident, competent criminal defense attorney, who understands what’s going on and can speak with them ahead of time and advise them.
Former New York state prosecutor Thomas J. Melanson represents clients in the Hudson Valley from his office in Kingston, New York. This interview was from March 2013.