I'm writing a story and I would like a more realistic approach on the plot. The point is: there is a lawyer doing bad things (because a mix of love and money) and he must (following orders) write all of those things on a report.

However, since he is a lawyer and he is not the mastermind behind those things, I'm thinking if there is something that he could write on this report, in a law perspective, to minimize his penalty if he gets caught. For example: "according to article X, since I was just following orders, I appeal to my Y rights" or anything like this.

It don't has to be a elaborate defense (but I will be glad if it will) since it is just a side note on a book full of proves of his crimes. If it matters, the story take place in Oregon, USA.

  • Following orders implies that the order was given by an commonly accepted figure of authority (commonly a military superior). A crime boss is not such a figure.
    – Flater
    Jun 8, 2023 at 6:35

2 Answers 2


There's nothing he can really write that any court would have to listen to - after all, from the court's perspective, he could have been lying when he wrote it down. And following orders is generally not a defense (although if he was under actual duress, like they were threatening to kill him if he didn't do it, that could be a defense.) But being a pawn rather than a mastermind can impact the sentence.

If the crime is a federal one, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines adjust the offense level according to the role in the crime:

§3B1.1. Aggravating Role

Based on the defendant's role in the offense, increase the offense level as follows:

(a) If the defendant was an organizer or leader of a criminal activity that involved five or more participants or was otherwise extensive, increase by 4 levels.

(b) If the defendant was a manager or supervisor (but not an organizer or leader) and the criminal activity involved five or more participants or was otherwise extensive, increase by 3 levels.

(c) If the defendant was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in any criminal activity other than described in (a) or (b), increase by 2 levels.

§3B1.2. Mitigating Role

Based on the defendant's role in the offense, decrease the offense level as follows:

(a) If the defendant was a minimal participant in any criminal activity, decrease by 4 levels.

(b) If the defendant was a minor participant in any criminal activity, decrease by 2 levels.

In cases falling between (a) and (b), decrease by 3 levels.

The lawyer would probably not qualify as a "minimal participant" if he's writing reports detailing the activity, as this shows he's aware of the extent of the illegality. He would, however, probably qualify as a "minor participant".

If the crime was a state crime, then according to Oregon rules:

(1) Subject to the provisions of sections (2) and (3) of this rule, the following nonexclusive list of mitigating and aggravating factors may be considered in determining whether substantial and compelling reasons for a departure exist:

(a) Mitigating factors:

(D) The offense was principally accomplished by another and the defendant exhibited extreme caution or concern for the victim.

(E) The offender played a minor or passive role in the crime.

  • 1
    Clear and straightforward. Thank you!
    – Mycroft
    May 17, 2020 at 16:15

The realistic choice for the lawyer would be to frame his actions as bonafide legal advice to his client. A lawyer generally is not liable for criminal actions of his clients.

As a lawyer, he'll know that "just following orders" does not work very well in a defense. Sure, any lawyer will throw the argument in when defending a client, because it also does little harm, but a lawyer wouldn't count on it themselves.

Additionally, the lawyer would also describe the written report as privileged attorney-client communications, so the content is not easy to use by the prosecution.

  • He is not working to a client. He is a lawyer but what he is doing is just supervising bad things unrelated with law itself and write all of them on a report.
    – Mycroft
    May 16, 2020 at 19:15
  • 1
    @Mycroft: That may be the case, but the lawyer would still pretend that he's working for a client. Remember that you as the author are all-knowing. The prosecution won't know up front that the lawyer is faking it. Even if they suspect it, the prosecution will need evidence.
    – MSalters
    May 17, 2020 at 15:46
  • This doesn’t add up, though, because lawyers are not allowed to help clients commit crimes and the the Rules or Professional Conduct allow for the disclosure of confidential information related to the representation of a client if a lawyer believes necessary to stop a crime from happening and/or in order to comply with the law. Feigning attorney-client privilege isn’t going to help a lawyer in this scenario.
    – A.fm.
    May 17, 2020 at 20:52
  • @A.fm: They're not allowed to. But the premise of the story is that they do. Given a crooked lawyer, feigning attorney-client privilege is not farfetched.
    – MSalters
    May 18, 2020 at 7:13
  • @MSalters I still don’t think so because what I was trying to say was that attorney-client privilege would not apply - it would not protect the document in question. So where in normal circumstances someone would say “hand over the doc” and lawyer would reply “no, it’s subject to attorney-client privilege,” and that would likely be upheld, if the “privileged” docs are assisting a client with a crime, they aren’t privileged so if they are demanded and the attorney says “no, it’s subject to attny-client priv,” that would likely not be upheld.
    – A.fm.
    May 22, 2020 at 12:03

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