The two largest areas of practice for me are immigration law and criminal law. I have often had to represent very young people in these kinds of cases. It is a very difficult thing to do. I would like to address—in an informal way—some of my thoughts about representing young men or women with criminal problems.
First, often my young clients happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many times, young people plead guilty to crimes that they did not commit. Therefore, if you have been in trouble or you are in trouble, whatever charge you are facing, do not listen to any lawyer who tells you to plead guilty if you firmly believe you are innocent. Make your lawyer explain why you should plead guilty, if that is what he or she is recommending.
Do not feel pressure to do anything you do not want to do. Your lawyer will do whatever you tell him or her. It is your case, and it is your life! Listen to his or her advice, talk with your family, and make the best decision you can together. If you do not feel like you understand what is going on or if you feel that you never have a moment with your lawyer to actually have your questions answered, that is a bad sign.
Very often, the younger the person, the less sophisticated he or she is. Young people tend to believe everything a lawyer tells them and they accept recommendations without questioning them. If you are scared and in trouble, you should try to talk to your family about your case, and if your family is not available, you should find someone else at your church or maybe even a close friend with whom you can talk.
Second, if you are in trouble, and are scared, you should know that the courts, police, and prosecutors in West Michigan usually do not want to destroy your life. Usually the lawyers and police officers that work for the government do not want to take extreme action unless you have done something really dangerous, or if you have hurt someone else.
My clients usually have not done anything really serious. Many criminal defendants are people who have simply made one or two mistakes on one bad night. The system can be very forgiving towards those people, especially young people. So if you are young, and are reading this and you are in trouble for the first time, know that the world is not going to end. There are ways to fix the problems that you are facing.
To parents, I would like to tell you all to be as involved as you can be in the cases of any children you have that may be in trouble, including at school. I was a teacher for a brief period of time, and I can tell you that the difference between the successful children and the children who struggled was always that the successful children had parents who were deeply involved at school.
I will discuss children and the law in more depth in future posts.
Thank you for reading.