Stupid Defense Lawyer Tricks

After winning a not guilty verdict for murder defendant George Zimmerman, defense attorney Dan West and his daughters celebrate with ice cream cones and what is interpreted as an insensitive slur against a prosecution witness.Buried in the copious stories and analyses of the George Zimmerman murder trial verdict were two bonehead moments by his attorney. They serve as a reminder that in this 24/7 world, you are never off-stage.

Attorney Don West began his opening argument at the trial with a knock-knock joke. After the not guilty verdict was handed down, West and his daughters celebrated with ice cream cones, which they documented on Instagram with the comment, "We beat stupidity."

West went into apology mode for both blunders, but you have to wonder, what was this guy thinking? He was representing a client in a high-profile murder case with deep racial overtones where every comment would receive national scrutiny and the verdict could spark huge protests. And he starts off with a knock-knock joke.

This kind of tone-deaf behavior can damage your standing, make people question your judgment and undermine otherwise credible arguments. It is insensitive and, frankly, stupid. 

One reporter said the knock-knock joke "was met with complete, life-sucking silence in the courtroom." Stephen Colbert "praised" the attempt at humor, calling it another great moment in "America's long history of murder humor."

Despite that flat-footed beginning and not calling Zimmerman to testify, West prevailed. You would have thought, savor the victory — in private.

But fueled with the endorphins from ice cream, the Wests gloated on Instagram with a comment widely seen as a further verbal slap at Rachel Jeantel, the young woman who talked with Trayvon Martin just before he was shot by Zimmerman. West was brutal in his cross-examination of the 19-year-old Jeantel, whose performance as a witness after the murder and at the trial prompted reams of commentary about the "cultural nuances" she represented in her testimony.

For most people, this would be a big warning sign about scratching an open sore. Not for the Wests. Did they think no one would notice the photo and comment on Instagram? Did they ponder for even a moment how it might be received?

"I didn't know" won't cut it as an excuse for a defense attorney. He should have — and undoubtedly did — know better. You simply can't be that socially thick.

Life will move on and people will probably forget West and his faux pas. But they should remind anyone in the public light — whether it is the klieg lights of national attention or the dimmer lights of a local controversy — to be on your toes. People are watching and listening. You can torpedo your cause and your client by stepping on your own petard.

Defense attorney Don West silenced a courtroom and stunned a national audience by beginning his defense of George Zimmerman with a knock-knock joke.