“Help, lawyer. A conviction will deep-six my life and career!”
All my clients are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, that does not mean that all my clients come to me with clean hands. Behind the seemingly picture-perfect lives of plenty of people who seem to have reached many levels of success, are demons of financial and job stress, relationship issues, substance abuse, depression, and the list goes on. In other words, wealth and material success are not automatic vaccines against the trials and tribulations facing the rest of the world.
Issues that led plenty of my indigent clients at the public defender’s office in the early 1990’s to commit crimes still arise often with my retained criminal defense clients. Similar concerns over criminal prosecutions afflict people of all walk of life, including career and educational concerns, immigration concerns for non-citizens, and relationship concern for clients whose significant others are not pleased about my clients’ purported behavior, nor about the risks from a criminal prosecution, and the diversion of savings to pay for a lawyer and any court fines and court-ordered programs.
My office, staff and I are judgment-free zones, helping to make me and my client into a stronger team without lawyer judgmentalism blocking our path to success. If it were otherwise, we would have no business doing the work we do. An emergency room patient wounded in a knife game of chicken does not want to be lectured by the doctor about what a dingaling he was to do such a thing, particularly not while the patient continues to lose blood from his wounds. Too many cops, prosecutors, and judges engage in too much passing of judgment over others. That is not my role. Furthermore, as Publius Terence aptly said so long ago: Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me. Thich Nhat Hanh takes Publius Terrence a step further in his poem "Please Call Me by My True Names," recognizing that but for his fortune in experience, resources, compassion and wisdom from an early age, he could have become the child raped by a pirate as well as the pirate who raped her, "my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving."
Neither physicians nor lawyers are miracle workers. That is not to say that great lawyers should do anything less than summon their own magic to achieve the best possible results for their clients. It does mean, though, that if my client has engaged in any of the criminal activity alleged against him or her, I am starting all the less from a clean slate. Sometimes I get an acquittal or dismissal or case inactivation for clients who have indeed committed crimes, and sometimes not. When I summon as much magic as possible, sometimes I exceed my expectations.
Psychologists, priests during confession, and criminal defense lawyers hear some of the darkest secrets and concerns of plenty of people who seem to everyone else to have their acts together. Plenty of my clients who acknowledge they have committed a criminal act or some other serious error leading to their prosecution are realistic that we may win or lose. Then I have my clients who insist: "I will not tolerate being convicted." "I will not go to jail" (even if they have a string of prior convictions). These are humans talking to their lawyers, hoping that their hard-earned dollars spent on the lawyer and defense expenses will make more of a beneficial difference than going to court alone or with a neophyte lawyer. I reassure my clients that I am busting my butt for them. I do not overpromise what the results of their case will be.
Some clients get upset when prosecutors do not offer a better settlement deal than the one offered. I remind my clients that prosecutors come to settlement negotiations looking at hedging their bets and looking at their office’s and police resources that will be saved by settling rather than going to trial. Prosecutors also are required to fulfill Brady and all their other legal and ethical obligations in negotiations. Prosecutors who want to inject humanity into negotiations will have a harder time doing so if their job security is at risk for doing so, so I avoid negotiating only on that level.
Plenty of my clients appear at first blush to be people who would otherwise be most comfortable fraternizing with prosecutors, police, military people, and other members of the conformist establishment. My clients have included police, military members, those with high-level security clearances and high-level government jobs, and those from major corporations and law firms. They come to me despite the philosophical differences that my blog reveals that I have with plenty of things that many of these clients do. By their hiring me, they know that I will not judge them, and that I will fight as hard for them as if they were political blood siblings with me. The work they do does not interfere with my work for them.
I tell prosecutors the things about my clients that might give us a leg up with negotiations, including the pro-government, pro-military, and pro-establishment bona fides of any of them. Prosecutor: Let’s not have this one aberration by my client sink his or her chances to continue honorably serving his or her society and community. Clients with less sparkling resumes can still help burnish their histories for negotiations with things as simple as community service work, and, if incarcerated pretrial, with engaging in work and programs in jail and by remaining infraction free.
The collateral consequences of certain convictions can be harsh to one’s career, educational prospects, military position, security clearance, and immigration status. Recently, I obtained a spectacular immigration-saving criminal case negotiation only after I showed the prosecutor as best I could why my client’s immigration law expert was more on point about the dangers of a conviction to my client’s immigration status, than the opinion of a government immigration lawyer to the prosecutor. Again and again, I work hand-in-hand with immigration lawyers, a security clearance lawyer and a health care licensing lawyer to show prosecutors and judges how devastating a conviction will be to my client, or how important it will be to amend the charge and to fashion a sentence that will reduce the risks to my client’s immigration prospects, career, or professional licensing.
I remind my clients that our fight for a successful result in their case is OUR fight. This often includes my clients proactively doing such things as doing community service, entering substance abuse programs, getting a clean bill of health letter from a psychologist, hiring an expert witness, and getting me such beneficial documents as reference letters and proof of successful military achievement.
Important to my obtaining strong results for my clients is our working closely together as a team, and the moral support of my clients’ loved ones. We need as few jungle bushes and varmints in or way as possible, so that we may wield our proverbial litigation machetes in our criminal defense battles, rather than on the distracting clearing of jungle paths that should be unnecessary sideshows.
When clients ask me what I am doing to get them out of their mess. I remind them that I am busting my butt, and that through teamwork with my client, I will be all the stronger for them.