–By John Merrick —
We value opportunities to build character in order to become better lawyers and people. Character is built through overcoming adversity and failure. Plenty of both can be found in criminal defense. Finding a “win” can be difficult or seemingly impossible in most cases.
Criminal cases are often riddled with difficult clients, extremely bad facts, overwhelming evidence to convict, unreliable witnesses, addiction and other mental health challenges, mandatory minimum sentences, etc. These things are outside of an attorney’s control, but must be navigated.
By contrast, a civil case is relatively less stressful, because the fight is over money or property (as opposed to freedom) and there is almost always some argument to make in your client’s favor.
Criminal hearings can feel like walking into a woodchipper (and having six or more hearings in a morning is not uncommon). I had such an experience last week. My client repeatedly violated the terms of her bond, then she repeatedly violated the terms of her probation.
The judge and the Commonwealth’s attorney magnanimously allowed my client multiple chances to get clean and avoid significant jail time. She could not do it, and last week was her day to be sentenced.
I had an excellent rapport with my client, and she knew what to expect. (While every case is different, her situation is common, and the outcome is often the same). With the deck stacked entirely against my client, I made the best argument I could muster. I expressed my points with compassion and sincerity, and I stuck up for her and her unfortunate situation.
As predicted, neither the Commonwealth’s attorney nor the judge was persuaded. The Commonwealth’s attorney noted every infraction in vivid detail, and I was admonished for “getting it wrong” by the judge, who seemed to disagree that my client’s drug addiction was the cause of her repeated failures to comply with the court’s conditions.
Even though the outcome was predictable, and the Commonwealth’s attorney would have a field day with reciting my client’s transgressions, I gave it my absolute best and reacted to the criticism of my client with civility: “Thank you, your Honor” and “Have a good afternoon [Commonwealth’s attorney]”. Sometimes just doing your best, reacting with civility, and not taking the outcome personally is where you find the “win.”
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