Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Today I took two pleas for clients who I believe were absolutely innocent and who were begging to take the pleas, and I took one plea for a client who was guilty and was indignant and enraged with the system about taking a significantly generous plea offered today only.
I don't like to fault my clients for not liking the legal process.  I don't particularly care for it either.  But I'm not a miracle worker.  I cannot get you out of jail just because you don't want to be there.  I cannot get your case dismissed just because you don't believe you should have been charged with a crime.  I cannot convince a judge to give you a 6th try at a program when you showed up once and failed to show up 4 subsequent times, despite repeated admonitions from all parties as to the ONE YEAR IN JAIL alternative.  I cannot beat your case at trial, which you so badly want me to do, if you never once return my phone call and skip every appointment I try to set up for us to prepare your defense.
One of the innocent clients had a case that I was sure was a slam-dunk acquittal.  He just didn't want to sit through a trial.  He wanted it over, Now Now Now, and took the plea that would have gotten him out instead of waiting a week to walk out an innocent man.  The other client I believed to be innocent had no way of winning at trial.  There was no doubt in my mind he would have been convicted.  The judge was giving him a really hard time about taking the plea.  We had to try it several times.  I was getting frustrated - my client could only allocute so much because he was innocent.  He couldn't say every detail because he just didn't know the details that he would have been expected to know, had he committed the crime.  I started to fear that my client would be forced to stand a trial he didn't want, to be convicted of a crime he didn't do, and experience and significantly harsher and longer penalty as a result.  In the end, it worked out.  But I didn't feel good about it.
I know I'm getting burnt out when I start minimizing my role in this crazy system.  (i.e., I am not a doctor, I am not an immigration attorney, I am not the person who decides your bail.)  I am completely overwhelmed by my caseload and the intense needs of handfuls of my clients. 


Gideon said...

Sometimes it really is difficult to reconcile your beliefs as the client's lawyer and the client's own desire to just get it over with.

I've thought about it often in terms of what I would do: Would I take that sweet deal just to end the ordeal or would I fight and go to trial?

It's difficult.

Saxon_Cori said...

I feel for you, girl. Been there, done that. Doing it. I once had to plead an innocent man out to a felony that he didn't commit because the issues were so technical - understanding autism in general, and particularly the fact that a 7 year old child in the midst of an autistic meltdown can indeed struggle so violently against restraint that he can suffer a spiral fracture of the tibia without his dad doing anything but hold his ankle to keep him from falling off the top bunk. None of the boy's therapists were willing to testify, and I could NOT find an independent expert. So my client grabbed at an offer of probation because if he lost at trial he'd go to prison for at least 6 years and if he went to prison he'd kill himself. I put on a 3 hour sentencing hearing just to embarrass the judge and persecutor with all of the witnesses willing to testify to my client's cooperation with services and his good character and gentle nature. But he's still a felon. That sucks.

I blog here if you're interested in comparing notes.