There are things of which I am certain – my love for my children, that summer follows spring and that I am a criminal defense lawyer. All other things are up for grabs and open to discussion including whether winter, as I have always known it, follows fall, my children’s love for me and whether I’m actually any good at this criminal defense lawyer thing.
People call me up looking for a lawyer and I always wonder what they want. If they ask me if I’m any good what do they think I will say? No? I am, in fact, quite terrible but you don’t need to know that. Doesn’t everyone say they are good? Doesn’t everyone puff up their qualifications and say they know how to do things they don’t know how to do just so they can get their foot in the door? Well, don’t they?
I don’t. But I probably should. In case I start to do that, read this piece and know things I don’t do as part of my full time gig: Juvenile court. Apparently it’s an entire world unto itself. I get calls now and again for it and I admit readily that it’s not my forte. I’m pretty sure I could handle it considering the rules of evidence are fairly lax, but if you are looking for someone who knows the judge by name I’m not your girl.
Family law. I don’t understand it and I think the rules are pretty complex and it could totally fuck someone’s life up. Imagine you are filing a divorce or custody agreement and you do it wrong and the people who hate each other are still married?? That’s almost like going to prison for a lot of people. It scares me and I don’t even dabble in it. If you need someone, I could probably get you someone.
Here’s one you probably wouldn’t guess – DUI. I think I could do it, seems similar to drug crimes and I think the science behind it is fairly interesting. I always like cross-examining experts, especially doctors and medical examiners so I think I would dig this too. But since I haven’t had a lot of them I would be hesitant to say this is something I do very very well. (although I will bet I could do it better than most. Wow, this post sounds sort of braggy, doesn’t it?)
Here’s something else I don’t do: I don’t work harder for you if you are innocent.
This is a topic that’s gone round and round the internet and if I weren’t so fucking lazy I’d link to all of the posts (remember those good old days when we used to do that, actually ‘talk’ to each other through our posts? Oh, le sigh) but like I said, I’m lazy and don’t feel like going back and doing that. You can google it and find it yourself. But it’s one that is a core concept in the criminal defense field – do we care if our clients did it or not.
I answer nay. In fact, a potential client called the other day and said he wanted to hire a lawyer who would defend him because they believed he was innocent. The right answer would have been yeah, totally man. That’s me. I think you didn’t do it. But, my stupid self wouldn’t allow me to say that so I told him if he wanted someone who fought harder for innocent clients than for ones who admit guilt, that wasn’t me and he should find another lawyer.
He called me back the next day.
Truth. It does not matter to me if you did it. It does not matter to me if you did not. I can think about it at night before I drift off to sleep, but I probably will not because thoughts will be taken up by how I can best craft a defense for you in either case. My job, dear potential client, is not to seek justice. My job is to defend you. Let your friends and family champion your righteousness and let me hire an investigator to find out if your ex-girlfriend’s daughter is known to tell tall tales and maybe has a boyfriend who doesn’t know she is under the age of consent.
This same potential client said he didn’t know how I could do what I do, defending people who are guilty. Ah! Can you believe it? It came from a client who believed I should only defend those who deem themselves to be free of sin. But, dear potential client, the government deems you the son of satan and well, your facts are only what the jury decides they are. Your innocence means nothing if I can’t prove it. Your innocence means nothing if the jury is convinced of your guilt.
Ergo, it doesn’t matter to me if you did it because there are people out there who believe you did. And it’s my job to get you out of this jam with as few bruises and scrapes as possible.
I am a paralegal for a defense firm (mainly post-conviction) and I cannot tell you the number of times clients and potential clients ask if we think they are guilty or not. I agree that it doesn’t matter. The law firm in which I work handles habeas petitions mostly, and my thought is that it is simply my only job to get your convictions overturned and get you a new, FAIR trial. At the end of the day, that is all that matters.
Great post. I am a defense attorney as well. It’s great to see I’m not crazy when I tell my clients that my job is to defend them, not decide whether they really did it or not.
I frequently tell my clients, “I don’t care whether you did what the state is saying you did, I care whether or not the state can prove each element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt.” That at least gets us past the bullshit and on to actually dealing with the case.
Great post – I enjoy the candor. Empathy over guilt or innocence is not the job. Defense is. You nailed it.
However, what are your feelings when you get an acquittal for a client your are fairly certain is guilty?
I couldn’t agree more. People ask me all the time how I can defend guilty people. Last week, a lady I serve on a board with found out I was a criminal defense lawyer and said, “You’ve read the Bible haven’t you? You know you’re going to hell?” I replied that Jesus was a criminal defense lawyer and she thought that was funny.
I wish people realized the range of penalties that can be imposed for the same crime. I know a guy who got 5 days jail on his first drug possession case here in Utah. He should have gotten a suspended plea and a fine. As you know, sometimes it’s not about winning a trial. It’s about convincing a prosecutor with a confession from your client that your client deserves a break.
Thanks for the great post!
Love this post. Have this discussion all the time. I like being the one standing between the jail house door and my client. My job is to make the State prove it or give up trying. Love it.
I get this question from civilians. “Did you ask him if he’s guilty?” Lord no, why would it matter to me? It doesn’t affect my job, and I don’t care.
Ms. Seddiq, After reading “Innocence” twice and if I didn’t know that you were a longtime SJ subscriber, the question of the day would be – “Is Mirriam completely full of shit or just full of her-self? Mr. Greenfield has a keen eye for bullshiters and would’ve called you out a long time ago if you dared to stray from logical to ludicrous. This comment is more of a conversation vs. looking for love links, and being vague isn’t my game. Read it or don’t, react or don’t, do something positive or don’t. In the end, I’ll still have made my case against dabblers everywhere I visit.
So, I guess we can all relax in knowing that you are the real deal (a Real CDL) that just made my fuckin day. I just wish that I had read this Post earlier. Are you ready for this? You and Mr. Greenfield are the ‘only’ attorneys / lawyers (that I know of) that have gone public clarifying that you don’t dabble in areas of law where you have no business being in due to lack of experience / interest. None of the Comments above dared or cared to touch it, instead they all locked in on the alleged stupid ass questions asked by potential clients. BTW, I’ve never heard of anyone asking such goofy shit, but if ya’ll say so.
Regarding ‘Dabblers” – Despite the courts (people) allowing non CDLs to dabble in areas where they have absolutely no experience whatsoever, doesn’t mean it’s okay, it’s wrong and always will be.
Ask yourself, is it ever okay for a Divorce & Will specialist to allow himself / herself to be referred to as a CDL, to be referred by others as a CDL, to consult with potential clients and / or their families re: felony cases, to quote felony jury trial fees, to accept down payments, to fail to investigate, to participate in voir dire proceedings, to file pre-trial Discovery motions 30 days prior to trial day, to not know what to do when the court ignores the motions, to ‘Not’ be aware that the client was on probation at time of arrest after being on record as attorney of record for 120 days, to ‘Not’ be able to recognize the client in a court room holding cell, to ‘Not’ be aware that the client is white with wavy brown hair and has a mustache with suspects having black skin and straight black hair and no mustache, to ‘Not’ be aware that the notes taken during the one and only visit prior to trial day (15 minutes) contains information regarding the above including the location of a store receipt showing exact whereabouts of client at time of crime, refuse to locate and obtain it from the floorboard of a freshly impounded vehicle, to finally realize that he / she is incompetent to represent the client during lunch recess, to tell the client Guilty or Not, you are going to prison due to your probation being revoked at time of arrest, take the ten and get on with your life.
See where I’m going? If one dabbles on their own in niches where a client’s life is at stake (for any length of time) to make ends meet or to simply gain some experience cuz it’ll look cool in a bio, the end product is (VOTS). As a victim of the system, directly tied to being tricked from day one, I’ve made it a mission to gain support of Real CDLs to implement the call for mandatory certification of CDLs prior to being allowed to consult with and represent misdemeanor & felony clients. Hospitals won’t allow orderlies to operate and courts shouldn’t allow the clueless to represent clients in criminal matters. Currently, Real CDLs have no problem watching others damage an entire profession, one case at a time. False arrests lead to wrongful convictions when fakers and shakers are allowed to dabble. VOTS that are tricked into plea bargaining can’t appeal therefore are screwed and will remember who fucked them over.
You (Real CDLs) can make a difference like Ms. Seddiq and Mr. Greenfield or do nothing and continue to condone, the ball is and has always been in your courts and for every client that is tricked into plea bargaining based on lies, don’t be surprised when one of the unstable ones seeks revenge vs. reform. Thanks.