After I graduated law school, I began my career as a public defender in Washington, DC. I worked as a public defender for a number of years before co-founding a private law firm, Price Benowitz LLP, in 2003. The firm originally began as a two attorney operation and has now expanded to approximately 30 attorneys.

I currently head the firm's White Collar Defense Practice Group and am barred to practice in DC, Maryland, and federal courts. I've handled a variety of interesting and complex criminal cases in my twenty year career.

Ask me about my experiences and I'll answer what I can.

Disclaimer: This AMA and its contents are not intended to be construed as legal advice in any way. If you are facing a criminal charge, please contact a lawyer in your area to discuss your case.

My Proof and My Website and My LinkedIn

EDIT: Thanks for all the questions, everyone. I have to run to a meeting, but may be able to come back and answer some more questions.

Comments: 788 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

wordofthe_wise141 karma

Has the recent decriminalization of marijuana in DC increased your caseload at all? Do you have an opinion on the decriminalization of Marijuana?

David_Benowitz419 karma

The decriminalization of marijuana has not had an effect on my caseload in particular. But, I agree and believe that marijuana should be decriminalized, both because of its proven medicinal benefits and because it has been used to justify unconstitutional actions by law enforcement for several generations.

Oklahoma_is_OK119 karma

The ABA just celebrated the 50 year anniversary of the Miranda decision - are there any recent (last 10-15 years) Supreme Court criminal decisions that come close to the massive effect of that ruling? If so, what case and how?

(I'm a young civil defense lawyer but criminal law still fascinates me)

David_Benowitz211 karma

There are two cases that come immediately to mind. THe first is a Supreme Court case called Booker in which the Supreme Court decided that the mandatory nature of U.S. sentencing guidelines was unconstitutional. THat presented a sea change in federal sentencing law.

The second case is Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. That came out in 2009. The Supreme Court held that the prosecutor in a criminal case can't use sworn affidavits to substitute for witness testimony in a criminal case. That changed the way criminal cases, particularly drug cases or cases involving DNA evidence, are presented by the government. Before this case, the government would try to use sworn certificates to prove authenticity of drugs that had been seized. This case held that that procedure was unconstitutional, because it didn't allow for the defense to cross-examines who had taken the action that led to the creation of these affidavits.

tomholder118 karma

Have you ever turned someone down because you thought they were guilty?

David_Benowitz291 karma

The short answer is no. One of the key purposes of my job is to represent someone to the best of my ability. Whether they committed the act that they are accused of is irrelevant to that goal. The whole point of the criminal justice system is that every person gets the best representation possible.

For example, I've had many cases where I've represented people who had committed one of the ten acts they were charged with by the government.

lbmouse116 karma

If you needed to hire a defense attorney, what should you look for?... Is there a checklist that you would recommend?

David_Benowitz183 karma

I would look for someone who is an extremely hard worker, who specializes in criminal defense work, and is accessible. The last thing you want to do is hire someone to represent you in a criminal case who, for example, is the cousin of a friend who is primarily a real estate lawyer that sometimes takes on criminal cases.

It's sort of like picking a surgeon who is going to operate on you. You need to be very sure they have the experience and skill before you let them cut you.

Dajbman2268 karma

What's it like being a criminal defense attorney with a name only two letters off from a very high profile criminal?

David_Benowitz66 karma

That was an issue in the mid 70s when I was a young child, but it hasn't really been an issue for the last 35 years. It made it interesting in the mid 70s, though.

jpberra4967 karma

What was the most bizarre scenario you've been in with a client?

David_Benowitz272 karma

When I first started out as a public defender, I represented a 7 year old who had been accused of brandishing a weapon at school. He turned up to court in a Dora the Explorer backpack.

saratogacv6050 karma

Do you want to know if your client is guilty or innocent as you prepare their defense?

How do you structure fees for white collar crimes, is it just an hourly rate or do you take into account the net worth of the client?

David_Benowitz54 karma

I structure fees in a number of different ways. Sometimes there are caps on fees that include an hourly rate, and sometimes there are retainers. To me, the net worth of a client is not as important as is their potential budget, because there are certain funds that are required for certain cases.

saratogacv6019 karma

What is the most frequent charge against a client, and how much does the client pay to have a defense?

David_Benowitz40 karma

In the white collar context, people are most often charged with various fraud offenses.

What a person pays is tied closely to the specific facts of the case, so it is difficult to say. There is no set formula for pay for a defense. I don't have a set fee for what I think it takes to represent a person effectively.

millbenj47 karma

What is a bit of advice you would give to someone considering going to law school?

David_Benowitz133 karma

To me, it doesn't make good sense to go to law school unless you want to actually practice law. There are some people who would say a legal education is a good education unto itself, but I disagree, particularly because of the cost and the time and energy involved in pursuing a law degree.

I highly encourage people to pursue internships before they decide to go to law school. For me, I did an internship with the Public Defender's Service in Washington, DC as an investigator when I was 23. That was what made me want to be a public defender.

kirelehnsherr35 karma

Most tricky case you've come across?

David_Benowitz107 karma

The trickiest situation is one in which a police officer and a complainant who claimed she was carjacked, colluded to keep evidence out of a trial.

tommyp60433 karma

When new students enter law school, what percentage claim they want to practice criminal law? Due to so many TV shows and movies it is the type of lawyer that is the highest profile - I often wonder how/why people gravitate or end up in the other types of law? How easy a decision was this for you and when did you know for certain where you were going?

David_Benowitz75 karma

The reason I wanted to become a criminal defense lawyer is because I was in the Big Brother program when I was in college. Through my interactions with my Little Brother and his family, I saw how terrifying and fraught with problems the criminal justice system is. Then, I did an internship right out of college as an investigator at the Pubic Defender's Service in DC where I investigated rape cases, homicides, etc. on behalf of indigent clients and that is what made me want to be a public defender. After I entered law school, I was totally focused on that goal.

BLB9929 karma

Why do prosecutors engage in prosecutorial misconduct?

David_Benowitz86 karma

My belief is that some prosecutors engage in it because they don't know any better, and haven't been trained properly. I believe there is a larger group of prosecutors that engage in that type of activity because they confuse their obligations to do justice with winning at all costs.

johnnynoname1224 karma

How many times in your life have you had to say " that was David Berkowitz" ?

David_Benowitz58 karma

Only when I'm walking near Central Park.

ChubbyWordsmith20 karma

Have you ever seen someone come to the profession later in life and if so did they manage to succeed?

David_Benowitz47 karma

I know several people who entered the profession later in life and became very successful. One in particular, was a former social worker who worked in the poorer parts of New Orleans.

ChubbyWordsmith15 karma

Great, thanks for the reply. It's something I'd like to seriously consider now but I'm 31, I've finished grad school, worked on aid projects overseas for a number of years and am now in a career in the same sector. It seems like a big jump for a guy who's going to be older than everyone else to say "Now I want to go into law" but it's encouraging to hear about success stories.

David_Benowitz38 karma

I wouldn't consider 31 to be old in any sense, particularly to go into law school. I also think the median age of law students is increasing. Getting life experience before law school is also very helpful.

Whopraysforthedevil18 karma

How would you have defended Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, in Marvel's Daredevil?

David_Benowitz76 karma

A better question is how would I defend Wade Wilson in Deadpool. Short answer - justified homicide.

Terrapinstine12 karma

Do you think there are any laws currently in place that potentially target a specific group of people?

David_Benowitz58 karma

Of course the law that was just passed in North Carolina.

I think the federal drug laws and the move towards mandatory minimums back in the 1980s were directed at poor non-white people. The effect has been disproportionately high against those groups.

YouAxolotlQuestions6 karma

Did you ever feel unsafe or like you're life was in danger because of a particular case?

David_Benowitz16 karma

One of my personal favorites is Presumed Innocent. It has the most realistic depiction of cross-examination, particularly of the medical examiner, that I've seen.

NopeTheFuckOut881 karma

How many times have you been called David Berkowitz by mistake?

David_Benowitz2 karma

This hasn't been an issue since 1970s, when I was 8. I scared a few people then when I responded to that name.

wilythepredictor1 karma

Trump or Hilary?

David_Benowitz1 karma


BoeingAH64-11 karma

DC is very black. DC also has the largest police force in the USA and spends the most $$ on this police force. Do you find the police are racist?

David_Benowitz13 karma

Respectfully, your assumptions are incorrect. DC has a population that is majority white. DC's metropolitan police force is approximately 3400 officers and New York is over 30,000 officers.