What Your Lawyer Can Do
Sometimes I get calls from people wanting to know whether I would be able to help them on their case. The caller is making a good choice to talk to potential lawyers. When you are charged with a crime the stakes are enormously high. I support anyone who finds themselves in that situation to get their questions answered and see if the lawyer is a good fit for them.
But sometimes I get calls from people who think they should hire a lawyer, but don’t understand what their lawyer actually does. “Can you use your special relationship with a judge to get a case dismissed?” Umm, no. “Can I leave town for six months and you take care of everything?” No no no no.
The question of what I can do, as a lawyer you hire, is a good one. What do I do that a public defender can’t? Why pay a lawyer when you can just represent yourself? For this week’s post I wanted to share three things I, your lawyer, provide for you.
1. Finding the issues
I touched on this in an earlier post but I’ll elaborate here.
Our legal system is inherently a dispute-resolution process. Judges and juries don’t go around preemptively making rulings and determining guilt. They wait for someone to be accused of a crime, then they listen to the evidence and arguments, then they make a decision on whether the accusation has been proved. My role as your lawyer is to offer evidence and arguments so the decisionmaker, be it judge or a jury, makes the right decision (i.e. the decision in your favor).
My job is to craft the effective arguments and present the effective evidence to get to that correct decision. What I do to do that is find the issues in a case, which means the points that are particularly strong for our case, or particularly weak for the other side, and bring them to light. If the other side has these points to make? I try to minimize them. Like I wrote in the link above, there is plenty of irrelevant information swirling around every case. My job is to cut through that and find the issues that can actually swing a decision, and then use them.
I pore over the materials in a case, looking for the actual issues that will affect the final outcome. You can think of a movie where the hero is sliding his hands along the wall, looking for the secret passage that leads to freedom. Or playing the right notes to get the treasure and escape the Farrellis. The criminal defense lawyer is like the hero of those tales, avoiding the traps and false leads to get people to freedom.
There’s no real trick to finding this stuff. There’s no information I have access to that a client who was representing himself or herself couldn’t get to. The public defenders too. They would see the same police reports I do. They could make the same arguments from the same Constitution and Supreme Court cases, call the same witnesses, etc.
What you get when you hire a lawyer is someone who has experience separating the wheat from the chaff, and has the time to follow all the leads. Does Terry v. Ohio apply to your DUI arrest? Very possibly! Does Missouri v. McNeely? Maybe! Does Roe v. Wade? I really hope not. But it’s the lawyer’s job to look through that mountain of legal history and pick the right path to the top. I am objective-based: I want my client to win. Every case I cite, every piece of evidence I reference, and every argument I craft is designed to meet that objective.
2. Providing credibility
But lawyers offer more than just issue spotting. They are also a source of credibility on a case. That’s because lawyers won’t actually be impacted by the decisions of the judge and jury.
Here’s the bottom line: I like my clients, and I like winning. Those two facts make me pretty effective at my job. My clients say I fight hard to get them good results. I’m proud of my reputation as a zealous advocate.
But if a case goes sideways, it’s not me going to jail. My client is the one who is facing all the penalties here. And while that makes my wife happy, it also helps me do my job. Because it’s the person who has no personal stake in the outcome that is the most credible person to address the court.
Consider these two statements:
“Mr. Jones did not steal that money.”
“I did not steal that money.“
Inherently, the first one sounds more credible. When a detached person offers a fact about someone else, we’re more inclined to believe it. This is the great power of the prosecutor and police: Nominally they don’t care about finding guilt, they’re just government agents trying to do their job (this isn’t true of course. They want to win as much as the next person and having their decisions vindicated).
As a lawyer I can wrest some of that credibility away from the government because I’m also nominally trying to do my job (also not true, as I care very much about winning and vindicating my client). But the point is, I am still more credible than the person who is actually facing jail if the jury doesn’t believe me.
As a lawyer, someone who is not a defendant and not a witness, I am in a unique position to be detached. I have no skin in the game. And as a detached person, when I say a person is innocent that carries more weight than coming from the defendant himself or herself. When I’m in court and I’ve taken the time to prepare the case, and I know the facts and I know the law, I look credible. That is really powerful. The decisionmaker wants to side with the most credible person.
Can a person representing themselves be credible? Yes, but they start off in a bad position. They start off looking like they’re trying to save their own skin rather than reveal the truth of a situation. It’s simply a burden that when you hire an advocate to represent you, you don’t need to bear.
3. Taking on the stress
I represent people from all walks of life, accused of things from as lowly as shoplifting a pair of socks all the way to felony sex offenses. The common thread, through all my clients and all the accusations they have to endure, is the stress.
Whether this is your first rodeo or you’re a “repeat customer,” it is no fun being a criminal defendant. You have a prosecutor out for blood and a jury who probably thinks you’re guilty of something merely by being a defendant. And if things don’t go well, you’re facing actual time in an actual cell. Speaking with my clients, they’ll vacillate from quiet tension to outright anxiety to complete panic.
I can’t take away all that stress. But I can reduce it. I can take on some of that burden. My clients know, with absolute certainty, they have an advocate in their corner. They have a person working for them. Someone who doesn’t work for the courts, or the police, or even the rest of society. My clients know no matter how unpopular they are or how unpopular their alleged crime is, I work for them only.
And that’s comforting, to have someone solely dedicated to your wellbeing. To know that you’re not going through this stressful and arcane process alone. And it’s not just having someone next to you in court. You have a person actually doing the talking, the writing, the arguing. You don’t have to to make a speech to a bunch of strangers. Your lawyer is doing that for you. Your lawyer, at least if that lawyer is me, is probably up late working on the finishing touches of a big argument. You get to get some sleep.
I wish I could say law school gave me the secret formula to win every case. But that’s not the case. When you hire me you get a lawyer who has been doing this for a while, takes the time to seek out a way to win a case, and does so solely for the benefit of the client. What your lawyer can do is increase your chances of winning, and give you time to breathe. And that’s not bad.
If you or someone you know needs a lawyer to defend against criminal charges, feel free to give me a call.