I recently had the opportunity to interview Tracy Miner, a criminal defense attorney based in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a member of the law firm Mintz Levin where she is Chair of their White Collar Criminal Defense Practice. She is co-chair of the White Collar Committee and sits on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Tracy has been vigorously fighting for clients facing criminal charges for over 28 years. She has extensive experience representing clients and corporations facing all types of complex white-collar criminal charges including health care and pharmaceutical fraud, mortgage fraud, and tax fraud. Tracy has an unusually high acquittal rate, which is rare in this business. She is the past president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and has been recognized for her exceptional skill in Best Lawyers, Chambers USA, and Massachusetts Super Lawyers. The heart and soul that she puts into representing her clients comes through loud and clear when you get to know her.
How did you get started in the criminal defense field?
Like many, I got started in the criminal defense field by accident. I came out of law school thinking that I wanted to be a securities lawyer. I was lucky enough to be put on a political corruption case that went to trial twice – the first ending in a hung jury, the second in an acquittal. After that, I was hooked. The intensity of the trial, the strategy involved in planning the defense at trial (in this case, an entrapment defense), and most of all, the absolute joy of having my client walk out of the courtroom a free man made me realize that I never wanted to do a civil case again.
What does it mean to you to be a successful criminal/defense attorney? And when did you feel like you had reached a point of success in your career?
To be a successful criminal defense attorney is both a benefit and a burden. A benefit because clients put their lives in your hands and a burden for the same reason. To be successful means to have the heart, will and ability to make your client’s situation and future brighter than it would be with others. I knew I was successful when I heard my first “not guilty” verdict for a client who refused to accept a very generous plea offer after I had cross examined the cooperating witness. I have had several not guilty verdicts since but the first one stays with me, especially as it was a case nobody thought could be won for the defense. I realized that the client was better off with me as his attorney than he would have been with many others.
Do you think being a woman provides you with any advantages when representing a client facing a criminal charge?
The biggest advantage of being a woman criminal defense attorney is the ability to empathize with your client and with a jury. I am their mother, sister or the girl next door. Clients are more likely to open up to me as they do not see me as a peer but as a counselor. Juries are more likely to relate to a woman who can personalize her client through her words and actions. If I am not afraid of my client, who is accused of selling guns and drugs, why should they be? If I convey that my corporate executive client is caring towards me, why wouldn’t he care about his company’s shareholders? It is easier for women to vouch for their clients in subtle ways, such as touching them, than it is for a male attorney.
What specific representation of a client has most stayed with you through the years and why?
Although I am fortunate not to have lost a criminal trial in the last six years, the case that stays with me is a case I lost about ten years ago. It was a close case and the decision to put on a defense case was difficult. My client’s spouse and mother of his child had valuable exculpatory testimony to provide, but it came out during the trial that my client was having an affair with the co-defendant. My instincts told me not to put the wife on the stand, but both my client and his wife said that she would be fine. She took the stand and sabotaged my client’s case. I could do nothing but try to impeach my own witness. The client was convicted. To this day, I regret that I did not trust my own instincts. I learned that you have to trust your gut and that sometimes the more conservative road is the best one.
What part of defending a client most fuels you? What part of defending a client most drains you?
The part of defending a client that most fuels me is standing up for someone against the full weight of the Government and winning. There is no bigger underdog than a criminal defendant. The Government has years to make its case, has the power to subpoena and immunize witnesses, can provide inducements to witnesses to testify for them and starts with a presumption that the defendant must have done something wrong. To craft a strategy that cuts through these advantages is intellectually challenging and emotionally fulfilling.
The part that most drains me is the same – the fact that the Government has every advantage and I still need to find a way to win. This most often entails long hours of analyzing every legal theory and fact in the case. It is a very lonely job and one that I need to do by myself, for myself. I spend a lot of sleepless nights worrying about whether I have missed something that would have helped my client.