Brian Watkins is a highly-regarded Michigan criminal defense lawyer and Of Counsel at Smith Blythe, PC. Brian earned his reputation as a fighter for justice successfully defending clients accused of serious crimes in courtrooms across the state of Michigan. He is admitted to practice in all Michigan state courts, all Michigan federal district courts, and the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. As an of counsel member of the Smith Blythe team, Brian maintains a close relationship with firm but does not work with Smith Blythe on every case. When the attorneys at Smith Blythe work with Brian, the team will determine the best way to proceed with your case in terms of strategizing to provide the best defense. At times, when Smith Blythe cannot take cases, the firm refers cases to Brian as a trusted attorney who works zealously for his clients.
Brian understands that our government has virtually unlimited resources with which to investigate and prosecute criminal allegations. He knows that consistently getting the best possible results for his clients means working harder than everyone else.
Brian appreciates that our criminal justice system is complex and often confusing to those facing criminal charges. He knows that regular communication with clients, ensuring that they understand the process they are going through and the posture of their case, is more than an ethical obligation. It is a matter of respect and it allays client anxiety. Brian believes that successful outcomes for clients are better obtained when they are able to work closely with their lawyers. Unnecessary anxiety works against a collaborative attorney-client relationship.
Brian recognizes that our criminal justice system is pathologically hostile towards criminal defendants and their rights. He knows that every accused deserves nothing less than their lawyer’s uncompromising devotion and an advocate unswayed by intimidation and fear. Brian Watkins knows who he works for and why. He develops close relationships with his clients and is known for his tireless work ethic. He knows that the criminal defense attorney is all that stands between a criminal defendant and the awesome power of the government and passionately argues his clients’ cases uncorrupted by intimidation and fear. When Brian agrees to represent a client, they are truly represented and they know it.
Other Professional Interests
Brian is an active member and supporter of the actual innocence community. In law school he interned with the Cooley Innocence Project, working to overturn wrongful convictions and exonerate those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. As a lawyer he continues to consult on those cases and undertakes actual innocence work in private practice.
Through this work, Brian developed an interest in the causes of wrongful convictions—specifically, those that are unintuitive and psychologically difficult to accept, such as witness misidentification and false confessions. He enjoys studying these phenomena and, as a guest speaker, has lectured on wrongful convictions, witness misidentification, false confessions, and litigating claims of actual innocence. His knowledge in these areas allows Brian to leverage that understanding to his clients’ benefit in the cases he takes.
Related Practice Areas
In addition to criminal defense, Brian regularly represents clients in these other, related areas:
Juvenile Court: Brian represents many clients in Michigan’s juvenile courts. Most often they are parents accused of child abuse and/or neglect (Child Protective Services or CPS cases) or juveniles accused of criminal offenses. Many times, parents face allegations which result not only in CPS cases and the possible termination of their parental rights, but also in criminal charges for the same alleged conduct. Brian has successfully represented parents in these difficult situations as well as juveniles facing serious criminal charges.
Title IX & School Discipline: Colleges and universities have their own internal process and procedure for resolving allegations that a student or faculty member has violated a school’s code of conduct. When those allegations involve sexual assault or misconduct, they are almost always prosecuted by the school under a federal law commonly referred to as “Title IX” (Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972).
Brian has defended both students and faculty at Michigan universities in disciplinary and Title IX proceedings and has been invited to speak to other lawyers on how to handle such cases. As with CPS cases, it is not uncommon for an accused student or faculty member to face Title IX disciplinary proceedings for alleged conduct that also results in criminal charges. Brian has helped numerous clients navigate these complicated cases.
In implementing Title IX, schools have considerable freedom to develop much of their own investigative policies and adjudicative procedures. Federal policy directives affecting Title IX investigations and prosecution can change when there are changes at the federal level in political administration. Further, schools are sensitive to federal investigation, public shaming by powerful interest groups, and to being sued by those alleging the sexual assault or misconduct. Thus, many schools’ investigative policies and adjudicative procedures cater to those concerns to the detriment of an accused student or faculty member’s rights. With so much at stake, lawyers representing an accused in Title IX cases must know what their client’s rights are and how to best ensure they are respected.
Appeals: Brian has handled a number of cases on appeal for clients who were convicted of crimes while represented by other attorneys. They include direct appeals (as of right), requests for leave to appeal (where a client was convicted due to their pleading guilty or no contest), and challenges to lower-court sentences. He has also represented clients on motions for relief from judgement—commonly known in Michigan as “6.500” motions—and in claims of actual innocence.
Many of Brian’s clients are charged with sex crimes. He has defended clients accused of every kind of criminal sexual conduct and child sexual abuse. He has represented juveniles accused of sex crimes both in the juvenile court system and those charged as adults (waiver cases). In Title IX proceedings, Brian has represented both students and faculty at Michigan universities accused of sexual misconduct.
Sex cases are widely recognized as some of the most difficult to successfully defend. This is not only due to the added stigma defendants in these cases face and, consequently, the heightened reluctance of potential jurors to presume them innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but also because there are technical and complicated issues often arising in sex cases that appear far less frequently elsewhere. Whether it is the collection, testing, and interpretation of biological evidence, the intricacies of forensic interview protocol, or the inherent biases of trauma-informed investigative techniques, Brian is knowledgeable of these and the myriad other issues often accompanying sex cases.
Professional Associations and Training
Brian is active in the criminal defense community. He sits on the Board of Directors for the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan (CDAM) and has been a member since his admission to the bar. He is a member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Criminal Law Section, and has served on its Executive Committee, and he is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).
Brian is a graduate of CDAM’s trial college, the federal Hillman Advocacy Program, and Gerry Spence’s esteemed Trial Lawyer’s College in Dubois, Wyoming.
Brian graduated cum laude from Cooley Law School, where he was recognized for his writing on constitutional issues. Before law school, he studied philosophy as both an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Mississippi.