The Press: A Game within the Game in Criminal Law

In Michigan, the field of criminal law presents more considerable obstacles than many other states. The biggest issue that criminal defense lawyers face comes out of the Lockridge decision. In Lockridge, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that scoring guidelines for criminal defendants were advisory. While that initially appeared to be a win for the criminal defendant, the reality is that the decision allowed the judge to exceed guidelines without fear for an appeal. The outcome presented stricter sentencing for those that plea or have been convicted at a trial of a felony. With an already difficult task at hand, many are left to wonder how the press plays a role in the criminal justice system. To discuss this issue, we sat down with three of the top criminal defense lawyers in the state of Michigan to gather their insight into this issue.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has put together what most consider the top criminal defense team in the state of Michigan. When asked about the interplay with the press, Grabel stated, “Having a good relationship with the press can be very helpful to your case. The press is the voice of the potential jury pool. If the journalist likes you, they will give your client a fair shake. If the press is against you, it makes the battle more difficult. Part of being a good criminal defense lawyer is understanding the pressures of the press and having respect for the job that the journalist has to do. We don’t ask for favors from the press, we ask for objectivity.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates. Amadeo has developed a reputation for his aggression and is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in the state of Michigan. When asked about the press, Amadeo was quoted as saying, “I was a journalism major and worked as a journalist for years. The field of journalism is critical to every facet of life. I would never ask a journalist to bend the facts, and I want my client’s side of the story heard. There are two sides to every story, and I’ve always been taught that trying a case in the press is never the way to start a case. With that stated, I would never deny a writer the chance to report a story, and I will fight back in the press when my client is attacked. When dealing with the media, the criminal defense lawyer should learn to counterpunch as opposed to throwing the first jab.”

Joseph Brugnoli works with Grabel and Associates and is known as a top litigator in Kent County, Michigan. When asked about dealing with the media, Brugnoli stated, “I’ve practiced in a lot of different counties in our state. One thing that we see more of is the prosecutor’s office utilizing the press to win favor. When this happens, we need to go to the mat for our client, but the defense lawyer should not start the fight in the press but should always engage for the benefit of the defendant.”

While dealing with the press is something that is never taught on the Michigan Bar Exam, it is a lesson that the criminal defense lawyer needs to learn. If the media is an enemy, the case becomes complicated to defend, if the press is your friend, the playing field can be leveled.

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