December 2, 2023

When defending a client against criminal charges, criminal defense lawyers must consider many factors that extend beyond just the facts of the case. Cultural and social factors influence how a defense lawyer approaches building their case, relating to their client, selecting a jury, and arguing before a judge.  The first step in planning a defense is developing rapport and trust with the client. This requires cultural competency – the ability to interact positively with people from different cultural backgrounds. Factors like race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, and socioeconomic status all impact how a lawyer communicates with and understands their client.

For example, a young African American man from an impoverished urban background may be distrustful of a lawyer with an Ivy League education and upper-class mannerisms. Or, a lawyer may need to be mindful of religious practices when scheduling meetings with a devout Muslim client. By being aware of and sensitive to cultural differences, lawyers better empathize with clients and build mutual understanding. In addition to cultural factors, social elements like education level, language skills, and immigration status are how a lawyer connects with a client. Spending time to appreciate a client’s personal experience helps gain trust and extracts important case details. This client insight then informs case strategy.

Locating alternate theories

When examining the facts of a case, Brampton defence attorney must identify plausible explanations for the evidence that shift blame away from the defendant. Cultural context helps lawyers investigate alternate theories that align with social norms and community practices.  If a defendant is charged with possession of an illegal substance, for example, the defense may argue that it belonged to someone else. But specifically pinning it on a boyfriend, coworker, or family member draws upon commonly accepted social dynamics regarding relationships and loyalty. Similarly, if evidence points to a financial crime, lawyers use typical cultural values around business ethics to identify other reasonable suspects. Presenting arguments that resonate with a jury’s cultural perspectives and social experiences makes them more believable and impactful. The prosecution typically promotes the most straightforward story, so criminal defenses rely heavily on context to illustrate other possibilities.

Navigating courtroom interactions

Inside the courtroom itself, culture and society continue shaping criminal defense strategies through unspoken social rules that govern behaviour. Expectations around body language, eye contact, speech patterns, and emotional expression vary greatly between cultures. Similarly, societal roles and norms determine who speaks when, how much respect to show the judge, and acceptable decorum. Lawyers must advise clients on proper courtroom conduct to avoid alienating important figures like the judge and jury. They must also follow all formal and informal rules, as prosecutors scrutinize every action, waiting to call out any infringements. Even small choices like clothing, hairstyles, and accessories take on outsized importance.

The courtroom has historically white, privileged men, so women and people of color must take special care to meet cultural standards. Accents, communication styles, and mannerisms that differ from the norm influence the perception of a defendant’s credibility and guilt. Lawyers must prepare clients to overcome prejudice by adhering to expected courtroom behaviour. When presenting to judges or juries, the communication style and content of arguments must resonate with the audience by accounting for their cultural values and social influences. For example, logical appeals citing statutes and precedents persuade judges who prioritize reason over emotion. Meanwhile, emotional appeals using narrative and rhetorical devices move juries towards a more compassionate view.