When potential clients come to sit with me at my conference table to discuss criminal cases and the possibility of hiring me to defend them, several questions always come up. The first and most important one is, “will I be going to jail?”
Obviously, the answer to that question always depends on the different circumstances. But the second question I am asked is much more interesting: “what can you do to help me?” This raises a good question: what should a criminal lawyer do to help you? After all, hiring a lawyer is never cheap. It is important to know what you are buying.
One of my law school professors told me that there are two different kinds of thinking about the job and responsibilities of the criminal defense attorney. The first kind of thinking is more aggressive: that it is the job of the attorney to get the client off, period. To have the charges completely dismissed. Any lesser result is a failure.
The second kind of thinking about the job of the criminal defense attorney is that he or she must make sure that the client’s rights have been protected. It is not necessarily the goal—especially if it is obvious that the client is guilty—to get the charges totally dismissed. It is more important to make sure the client has been given all the rights to which he or she is entitled by law. Even more importantly, this second school of thought emphasizes that the government must be forced to prove the charges against the person are true. That the client should admit nothing.
As is so often true in other areas of my life, my preference is to adopt elements of both schools of thought! Sometimes, nothing less than total dismissal of the charges is the appropriate result in a given case. But very often, dismissal is an unrealistic goal and the only thing to do is try to minimize the consequences as much as possible. This often means that most of my job in a criminal defense case is to make sure that a client gets the lightest sentence possible.
I have been able to do that many, many times. I have also been able to get charges dismissed many, many times. Everything depends on the different case. A wise man once said “you have to cook with the right food.” I guess what he meant is that if you are working with good material, you will get a good result. If you work with cheap material, you will get a cheap result.
In the legal world, every case is different. The facts of each case are always different. In some cases, a person may have broken the law, but he or she may not have broken the law that the government or the police say that he or she broke. In other cases, the person may have broken more laws than the ones that the police or the prosecutor are saying. In some cases, there may have been a witness. In other cases, there may have been no witnesses, but only documents indicating that a crime took place.
How the different ingredients go together is really what makes a case good or bad. Lawyers often talk in these kinds of ways… they refer to some cases as “good cases” or others as “losers.” If any readers of this article have been or are being charged with a crime, and you are thinking of getting a lawyer, keep in mind everything that was said here. Ask him or her, “do I have a good case? What is the best result we can get? Can we get the charges dismissed?” they should be able to answer all of these questions clearly.
Thanks for reading!