The Home Court Advantage in Criminal Law

It is a common belief that it is important to hire a criminal defense attorney who works frequently in a specific local criminal courthouse to have the best chance for a good outcome in your case. Is there really a “home court” advantage when hiring a lawyer to defend you on a criminal charge?

That is a complicated question, but the short answer is “sometimes” and “it depends”.

A commonly held, cynical view of criminal justice in America holds that the law and court system is a “good ole boys” network.  and a defense lawyer who is a local, and friendly with the judge and prosecutor can get a sweetheart deal for his client, irrespective of the legal merits. That really doesn’t happen, but there may be a much more subtle effect in play.

A judge who is familiar with a defense attorney may be more willing to listen carefully to the attorney’s arguments and motions. An attorney with a solid local reputation and professional respect among his or her peers is bound to get better treatment, and more thoughtful consideration when arguing in court.

On the other side of the equation, there can be a real advantage to the client when a defense attorney knows a judge well, and his or her unique tendencies and temperament. There may be certain legal arguments that some judges may be more sympathetic to.

If your attorney is taking your case to trial, he or she may have to decide between a traditional jury trial, where the jury determines your guilt or innocence, or a bench trial, where the judge determines the verdict.

An attorney will usually choose to try the case in front of a judge only if the attorney feels that the judge will likely understand and agree with whatever technical legal arguments he or she will apply in your case. But it is hard to make that important call if you don’t know anything about the judge you are facing.

When it comes to negotiating a plea, the same applies. Some prosecutors and judges may be more amenable to certain plea deals, working out alternative sentencing options, or other results that can lead to a very good deal for the defendant.

Should I Ask an Attorney About His Local Court Experience?

Yes, it is definitely worth asking any prospective attorney about his experience in that specific courthouse. A few good questions to ask are:

  • How often have you practiced in the court where I am charged?
  • What do you think of the judges and prosecutors there?
  • Do you know if some judges are better than others?
  • Are you well known to the judges who preside in that court, as well as the clerks and prosecutors?

If an attorney can quickly rattle off the judge’s names who sit in that court, and tell you if there are any significant possible sentencing risks in those courtrooms, then you are probably talking to someone who knows how to help you.

Is All of This Really Fair? Why Should The Court, The Judge, or the Lawyer Really Matter? Why Can’t I Just Trust That I Have The Truth on My Side?

How nice it would be if criminal charges were automatically worked out fairly all the time,  exactly as they should! Unfortunately, our criminal justice system is quite imperfect. Judgments have to be made by people at many levels, and people get things wrong.

All you can do is try to understand the flaws and biases in the system, and make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of, and you get every opportunity to get a fair hearing and fair treatment under the law.