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Taking the community service task by the horns

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This article answers frequently asked questions of my clients and others on how to tackle community service as part of preparing for their case.

My community service recommendations come in the context of my advising my criminal defense clients to complete some tasks or “homework” to assist in negotiating their cases and to assist with any possible sentencing. For DWI cases, I usually advise to register for an alcohol education class or a more intensive program for more serious situations, to complete a Virginia DMV-approved driver improvement class, and to attend some or many documented AA or AA-type meetings. Links are here to those programs.

Doing this homework is the opposite of admitting any culpability or social liability. Performing the homework helps show that my client is serious about leading a law-abiding, productive life regardless of his or her level of innocence or guilt. So many criminal defendants do little to no homework that those who do the homework can impressively stand out all the more.

For drug cases, I often advise to enter drug education; and advise to get regular clean urine drug tests; to do documented AA, Narcotics Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Smart Recovery or Step Chat meetings (all listed here), and to do documented community service.

For theft cases, I ordinarily advise to complete a theft class (for instance Offender Solutions‘ eight-hour online class), to do documented community service, and to get a psychological evaluation assessing what my client needs to do to minimize the risk of committing future crimes (for instance through additional counseling).

For assault cases, I usually advise my client to complete an anger management class, preferably live or online through Offender Solutions, complete documented community service, and get a psychological evaluation.

By community service, I mean non-political volunteer work for a non-profit organization. Nursing home work should be acceptable even if the nursing home is for profit. Religious organizations should be okay so long as the work is something other than teaching and promoting the organization’s religion; for instance, it should be okay to set up the chairs for a religious gathering, rather than to lead the meeting for community service purposes.

Community service ordinarily is very rewarding in and of itself. Here are some common questions from my clients, and my answers:

– Q: I already do community service in my neighborhood. Can I get credit for what I already do? Answer: Get documentation of the community service performed subsequent to the date of the alleged crime.

– Q: How do I ask for documentation of my community service without admitting that I am doing the service for a court case? A: How about saying: “I want to volunteer for your organization/project, and would like a letter confirming the community service, to the extent that might benefit me in career and other endeavors.”

– Q: What do I do if the organization asks me if I am doing the community service for a court case? A: Many organizations encourages community service for all purposes, including for court cases. It is true that some organizations will deny community service for certain types of alleged crimes, for instance certain alleged sex crimes. I can always speak with my clients to form a strategy still to find fulfilling community service.

– Q: Is it legitimate to do community service online? A: A scam exists to pay a company to get a community service letter for doing no more than reading articles and taking no action on them. Reading articles in and of itself is not community service. Reading articles aloud into an audiotape machine might, or might not, be a legitimate way to provide access to the written word to blind people.

– Q: How do I document the community service? A: Experienced community service organizations will have a template for documenting the service. The letter should cover all the elements in this draft letter.

– Q: Where do I find community service. A: Community service opportunities abound. It is great to pursue volunteer opportunities that you will find rewarding, and even opportunities that might enhance your knowledge and resume.

Here are some ideas: Nursing homes (avoid hospitals if they have a review process that will slow down starting community service work); Libraries; Non profit fundraisers; Houses of worship, but not for teaching religious subjects; Parks; Soup kitchens; Helping children with homework; Helping insufficiently literate people to read; Meals on Wheels; Goodwill; Salvation Army; Senior Citizen organizations and programs; United Way will have additional ideas.

I tell my clients to feel free to vary their community service work, rather than having to stick to one organization. Many of my clients derive great satisfaction from such work, and some therefore continue the work even after their cases are finished.