Listen to Your Lawyer
I remember most of the stupid things I have done. One that sticks out is the day I decided to replace the pea trap under my kitchen sink. It really looked simple. Two attaching rings and maybe one pipe section that needed to be replaced? How hard could that be? I’m an educated man after all, and often considered intelligent. This is just plumbing, right?
I won’t go into detail about the level of damage I caused, the four trips to Home Depot and then the specialty plumping shop. The bottom line is I ventured into an area for which I was unprepared and I made a mess of things. The final cost of the job was astronomical since it involved an emergency after hours visit from a plumber. (By the way, he did the job in thirty minutes.)
These days when I get a visit from a new client looking to hire a criminal defense attorney, he has spent a pretty good amount of time on Google searching for information about his legal situation. By the time he gets to me he is already pretty sure about how his defense should be carried out. I listen patiently to these newbies since I know that I am part of the problem. Lots of Criminal Lawyers advertise solutions to legal problems and my website is more detailed than most. I’ve always believed that the client should not be isolated from relevant information.
However, there is rarely a standard disposition on a particular type of criminal case. I say rarely because in some counties we can count on an offer of pre-trial intervention for some types of crimes for first time offenders. However, in the vast majority of cases, resolution depends on the two competing factors of unique offense facts and offender characteristics. How effective a lawyer balances those competing factors ultimately determines the outcome of the case.
Now, I’m pretty good at balancing those factors. I remember one time I represented a young man involved in a bank robbery. There were three co-defendants, all under the age of 23 who, after a particularly boring day of video games, got it in their heads to rob a bank. Unfortunately for all of us, they had access to guns.
My client was the youngest of the three, but he was also the chap who wound up on video wearing a black ninja suit and mask, holding two semi-automatic handguns pointed in two directions. It made a particularly dramatic picture of danger.
After the robbery, the three made their get away on four-wheelers. They surmised that if they took off through the woods that bordered the bank, they couldn’t be followed. As it turned out, they were right and wrong. Nobody followed them but officers waited for them where the woods cleared to suburbs and they were all arrested in possession of the guns and money. Confessions followed.
I remember the offer well. 30 years! I thought, this for a 21-year-old kid attending college with no criminal or juvenile record? After speaking with him, it was clear that he was far from the leader in the group, and despite video evidence to the contrary, was far from violent. It appeared that the robbery was conceived, planned and carried out much the same way that a video game would have been played. Except it wasn’t a game, and the prosecution was dead set on making sure that my client didn’t get out of prison.
We went to trial. The facts were pretty lousy, so my strategy was to plead guilty to the robbery and present an entirely different case to the jury. I offered evidence about my client’s relationship with the other two defendants, who had not yet been to trial. I provided the entire life story of my client, and presented each and every witness I could find to give an impression to the jury that countered the oft referred to video still of my ninja clad client holding the guns. I even put on his pre-trial supervision officer to testify to what a model supervisee he was. (I was also fortunate that he supervised the oldest co-defendant, and was able to testify that the co-defendant, by contrast, was recalcitrant and drug using.)
Ultimately, the jury gave my client five years, which was the minimum possible punishment for the charged crime. I still remember whispering to the foreman “Thank you” and her equally appreciative “your welcome” after the five-year sentence was read by the Judge.
I bring this up because the case was an example of how the balance of facts and offender characteristics can be used by a dedicated and experienced counsel to achieve a particular result. Without experience, knowledge is mostly irrelevant. Mere information is not a defense, no matter where the information is obtained.
There is no possible way to pigeonhole a case. If that were true, we would have pled the aforementioned case to 30 years! Some of my prospective clients seem to think that hiring a lawyer is something akin to buying a new Toyota Prius; if you know the color, package and style you want, then the only thing that needs to be discussed is price. Hiring a lawyer for a criminal case doesn’t work that way. Experience and ability sometimes trumps law and facts in the courtroom. It was that way long before Google, and it will be that way long after our criminal justice system turns into a series of video chats.