Dec 13, 2015 Criminal defendants need to face even the ugliest aspects of their cases, with their lawyers backing them up
In public, plenty of my criminal defense clients come across as having everything together in their lives, including people with impressive resumes, excellent incomes, exciting careers and lives, and wonderful families and friends. Their mere need for my services does not automatically mean anything worse than that they have been accused of a crime and are presumed innocent and well may be innocent, but the very risk of a conviction can clash for them with their sense of success and self in their lives.
I ask my clients to open up to me in relevant ways that they may never have opened up to their mates and best friends. This of course can take time and development of trust in me, and my exhibiting the reasons for them to trust me. If my clients are going to open up to me, I need to be ready to open up to them. This does not mean my revealing what I would not tell anyone but my closest confidantes, but does sometimes mean my sharing, when they are feeling inconfident or pessimistic, that I was not always as confident and optimistic as I am now, and that this all has been a work in progress; and I encourage them and me on our full potential with their case, and sometimes with their full potential beyond that. This is not about my freaking out my clients with raising seemingly new-age, cockamamie faddish practices, but about working with my clients starting at the place where they are and where they feel comfortable, and offering to work with them even out of their comfort zones on the road to fighting for success, because our fight needs to be about winning as best we can, and about bringing them as close as possible to harmony from the disharmonious situation of their prosecutions.
Some of my clients who may have had one too many drinks than they should have might tell me about stress, depression or inattention that led them to get behind the wheel after drinking when they would have been wiser to catch a cab or get a hotel room, or to pay for the same for their even drunker friend who urges my client to drive them home. They may not want to watch the incident video from the night of their arrest, but doing so can be important for us to develop our defense.
Some of my clients who have gotten charged with illegal possession, or, worse, possession with intent to distribute drugs based on a large quantity of discovered illegal drugs, might tell me about self medicating, or obtaining prescription drugs by fraud when their doctor refused to increase the dosage of the prescription drug on which they got hooked.
Some clients charge with assault tell me of rash behavior in not getting away from or diffusing a tense situation.
Getting to the darker places, my clients who did in fact possess child pornography or seek sexual activity with minors, may themselves have stunted mentalities — thus being sexual beings identifying sexually with minors — from physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse when they themselves were minors. They need counseling to avoid ever gain acting on those impulses.
Many of my clients will benefit in one way or another to meet at least once with a psychological professional, if for no other reason than to get a prognosis of their likelihood of avoiding committing future crimes, with or without a prescription for such avoidance. The days are long gone, in most respects other than with some sensitive government work, when going to a psychological professional was a scarlet letter. As one great psychological professional underlined to me many years ago, with our friends and family members, we are only dealing with scattered pieces of our psychological issues; with a good professional, we can deal with the whole issue.
When my clients open up to me, they often are telling me their deepest and darkest secrets that they have shared with few others. Psychological professionals and priests in the confessional booth often find themselves in a similar boat. The lawyer, psychological professional, and priest must all be ready to deal with the psychological roller coaster or new or reopened psychological discomfort, envy and even trauma that can come from hearing and dealing with these topics. On top of that, as a lawyer, I need to be psychologically prepared for viewing pictures of decedents in homicide cases, alleged assault victims, and explicit images in child pornography cases, which are the same images that will be offered into evidence at any trial, there also to cause potential psychological trauma to everyone in the courtroom who sees them.
Even after some of my clients pay me hard-earned income to represent them, some of them may want to avoid coming face-to-face with the seriousness of their cases. One client for whom I obtained a spectacular felony case result went a good while not responding to my calls or emails, wanting to avoid thinking about the risks in his case. I reassured him that the best way for us to defend his case was for us to come face to face with all essential aspects of his case and defense preparation, even the ugliest sides. I reassured him that I would never judge him and would be there to help him feel on firm ground in his defense, but of course with no overly-optimistic rosy pictures. Well before our jury trial date, I assembled a workshop at my office, as I often have done, with other lawyers to help prepare my client’s testimony and to help crystallize our defense. With several in the group being fellow alums of the Trial Lawyers College, they and I knew that after my client had bared his soul and shed his skin to us, that we needed to provide him support and encouragement to help replace his skin and strengthen his soul. Typically that includes us hugging my client at the end; this once foreign seeming concept of all this hugging before I attended the Trial Lawyers College in 1995 now makes more sense.
Sometimes on AVVO answers, I see some of my otherwise very capable-seeming colleagues judging the criminal defendant inquirers, sometimes jumping to conclusions that they committed the crimes charged or had failed greatly in one way or another. Criminal defendants need defending, not judging by their lawyers, just like a person embarrassed from getting something stuck into his or her bodily orifice during experimentation or pleasure-seeking, or getting severely burnt while playing with fireworks, does not want to be judged in the hospital emergency room, but medically taken care of, with any empathetic warnings to be more careful next time coming after the doctor has treated the problem that led to the hospital visit. Both criminal defense clients and medical patients want good bedside manners from their lawyers and doctors.
Criminal defendants so often feel lonely. Depending on the severity and publicity of their charges, they may find themselves shunned by certain friends, family members, colleagues, acquaintances and others in society, even when they remain presumed innocent and might even beat their charges. That is the time when they know who their true friends and confidantes are. My criminal defense clients want me there as a constant through the often roller coaster feelings during their cases, supporting them and not judging them. How else will they open up fully to me so that I can fully help them as a team together ?
A criminal defense lawyer needs to have his or her sh*t together to deal with all the real and alleged trauma involved with their client and the case, just as acid will burn through the vessel that holds it if the vessel is too weak. I work on my sh*t through a combination of building on my professional and personal experience, having the mutual support of my family and friends, doing taijiquan, doing meditation, and pursuing mindfulness. Working on myself and my sh*t is a lifelong process; few people enter the battlefield or the fighting arena unscratched or unbruised, but the goal is to win the battles and the wars even if our proverbial injuries and blood sometimes are drawn in the process.
The lawyer must be fully present with his or her client and the client’s case, and not numbing the lawyer’s ears, eyes and very being and soul against ugly relevant information that comes from the client, the evidence, the witnesses, the prosecutor, the lawyer’s own bad experiences and even repressed memories, and everywhere else.
The lawyer and his or her client must face up to even the most trying hurdles, concerns and pain before successfully addressing them, or those hurdles will linger, and even fester and spread. It is akin to the taijiquan move of embrace tiger/return to mountain. How can we return the tiger or other hurdles to the mountain or elsewhere where they will do less or no harm without first knowing those hurdles, even if we risk getting clawed and eaten while embracing the tiger, which means we need to know how to do that knowing and embracing in the first place.
When a lawyer approaches his client as outlined above, the often magical and unexpected doors to great results are even further opened.
Today’s blog entry was inspired by Mindful magazine’s recent apt Twitter reminder that “It isn’t good for us to flee from any moment of boredom by going to a phone,” meaning that today we have so many ways of escaping from ourselves and the world around us by turning to our cellphones and the myriad Internet, social media, gaming and other digital distractions found there.
That quote reminded me of a person who had the good fortune to find a great local weekly meditation teacher who appears only on voluntary donations, but told me that meditation made him uncomfortable, because it made him come face to face with himself. Exactly! We must ultimately face who we really are if we are truly to reach our full potential. I do not push meditation or mindfulness on any client, because their path is their path. Instead, I sometimes ask if they have any spiritual or other self-development practice, and ask how that practice might help them in dealing with their pending case. One client who felt ungrounded on his court date told me he does some simple deep breathing, and we were happy to both do some deep breathing together, giving ourselves the extra strengthening pause and space to return to successful battle.
The journey with my clients towards success can be full of exhilaration, free falls and discomfort. I relish the challenge.