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Whitney Z. Bernstein


Whitney is an experienced criminal defense attorney who brings her competence, compassion, and tenacity to every case and client. 


Whitney Z. Bernstein is an aggressive litigator and criminal defense lawyer with a track record for achieving success for her clients when the odds are against them. She has spent her career representing clients charged with felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses. Whitney earned her reputation as a credible, tireless, and respected advocate during her years as a trial attorney with the Federal Defenders of San Diego and with Brooklyn Defender Services.  She has tried numerous felony and misdemeanor federal and state jury trials.

In addition to Whitney’s considerable courtroom and trial experience, she has drafted and argued countless suppression and discovery violation motions, negotiated favorable dispositions for her clients, and obtained numerous dismissals of charges.  Whitney takes a very hands-on approach by involving herself in all aspects of case management, investigation, interviews, negotiations, and trial preparation.  She has also successfully argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding interpretation and application of federal immigration laws.

In addition to her actual practice, while at the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., Whitney helped expand the office’s renowned training curriculum and supervised new trial attorneys.  She also continues to train federal criminal defense practitioners at the local and national level.  At her most recent training, she spoke on the emerging body of law on cell phones and the Fourth Amendment.  Currently, Whitney proudly serves on the inaugural Advisory Board to the San Diego County Probation Department Chief, as a Lawyer Representative for the Southern District of California, and as a member of the Women’s White Collar Defense Association.

Prior to joining Bienert Katzman Littrell Williams LLP, Whitney was a trial attorney for the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.  Before that, she was a trial attorney for Brooklyn Defender Services in Brooklyn, New York.  She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School earning her J.D. and simultaneously earning her Master of Science in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania Department of Criminology.  Whitney was an Associate Editor of the Journal of Law and Social Change and was awarded a Pro Bono Recognition of Outstanding Distinction for her service.  As an undergraduate at Cornell University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Government and Sociology with a concentration in Law and Society, she graduated with Distinction in All Subjects, Dean’s List, and was an active volunteer in the local community as a firefighter and teacher.

Whitney was selected by Super Lawyers as a “Rising Star” in 2020, and she has been recognized annually since 2021 by Best Lawyers for her work in Criminal Defense: White Collar.  In 2021, The National Trial Lawyers named Whitney as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Defense Trial Lawyers for her demonstrated superior qualifications, leadership skills, and trial results as a trial lawyer. 


Whitney Z. Bernstein Criminal Defense Lawyer and Rising Star

Super Lawyers Rising Star”

Named to Southern California Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” (no more than 2.5 percent of attorneys in any state have this distinction)

Whitney Z. Bernstein Whitney Z. Bernstein Criminal Defense Lawyer Best Lawyers

Whitney Z. Bernstein Criminal Defense Lawyer Received Lawyers of Distinction 2019Whitney Z. Bernstein Criminal Defense Lawyer Named Top 40 Under 40 by The National Trial Lawyers


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Representative Matters

  • Obtained reversal of client’s conviction from Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the Circuit recognized the theory that an unlawful removal of a legal permanent resident in absentia infected his subsequent removal from the United States and could not serve as the basis for future criminal prosecutions.
  • Achieved jury acquittal for client facing ten-year mandatory minimum prison sentence accused of importing methamphetamine.
  • Obtained dismissals of all charges for multiple clients charged with federal drug offenses after litigating discovery, constitutional, and suppression issues.
  • Litigated discovery, constitutional, and suppression issues in a bulk cash smuggling case and obtained favorable resolution whereby client avoided incarceration.
  • Obtained dismissal of federal charges and sealing of arrest record for clients accused of importing narcotics and transporting undocumented persons.
  • Won suppression of statements and dismissal of federal drug importation charges for a client arrested at the Port of Entry in a car full of narcotics.
  • Secured pre-trial dismissal of all charges for client accused of assaulting a federal officer.
  • Secured jury acquittal for client charged with driving under the influence.
  • Secured jury acquittal for client accused of assault.
  • Litigated motions to dismiss alleging a due process violation of an administrative misapplication of criminal law and thereby negotiated favorable dispositions for clients.
  • Argued due process violations in prior proceedings for a severely mentally ill client facing federal felony charges and obtained a misdemeanor resolution.
  • Obtained probationary sentences, thereby avoiding lengthy prison terms, for multiple clients convicted of importing narcotics and violating other federal laws.
  • Identified and secured citizenship for client facing deportation.