do You Enjoy Being A Criminal Defense Attorney?
I get a phone call in the middle of the night from a client who has been arrested for drug possession charges. I called him first thing the following morning to see how I can help him. As he begins to tell his story, I become more and more captivated by the unique facts surrounding his arrest. He's a young kid, in his early twenties and is working two jobs.
He describes in vivid detail a series of events that you can only find some of the most scandalous fiction novels. I've learned over the course of my career that quite often the more fascinating and complicated stories are the ones that have the truth in them. As he's talking, I ask myself, "is he making this up?" Why would anybody waste their time calling a defense attorney in the middle of the night to make up a story? Perhaps he's not mentally fit. Or, maybe he suffers from some mental or psychological ailment.
He proceeds to tell me that the arrest for which he needs a defense attorney occurred two months before our conversation. He shares with me that he met with several different criminal defense attorneys in New Jersey, and each one was asking for a significant amount of money. Huge amounts of money that he could not afford.
I asked him if he was facing felony or misdemeanor charges or, as they are identified in New Jersey, indictable offenses or disorderly persons offenses. He assures me that they are disorderly person offenses and I cannot understand why the attorneys he spoke with are charging him so much. Nevertheless, I asked him to fax or email me copies of the criminal complaint. Once i have this information, I can confirm that he is indeed facing disorderly person offenses.
When I received the documentation proving that everything he tells me is correct, I call him and I explain that I would like to represent him. I quote him a reasonable fee and he accepts the price with tremendous enthusiasm and continues to ask me quizzically, "You seem to enjoy being a defense attorney right?" I respond, "Yes I do. I love being a criminal defense attorney."
"Really?" He asks. And then continues, "I thought that would be the most difficult and ugly part of all the areas of law." I tell him that many people see it that way but remind him that he is calling me for help. People need defense attorneys for their situation. He understands the irony in his question.
He exclaims, "Yeah, I guess you're right. Defense attorneys are important. I feel like the cops roughed me up during my arrest and it wasn't fair. I'm intimidated with this whole criminal justice system, and I need somebody on my side. I guess this whole experience is making me think of criminal defense attorneys in a whole different way. It's kind of like the movies make you guys out to be scumbags who help degenerate criminals get away with heinous crimes."
I chuckle and agree. The movies rarely, if at all, cast defense attorneys in a positive light.
The exchange between my new young client provoked me into writing an essay (high school style) that answers the question: What do you love about being a defense attorney?
I've always loved rooting and fighting for the underdog. There's something about the David and Goliath story from the Bible which still resonates with me. I grew up in the 80s, and I'm a devoted Rocky fan. The story about a no-name fighter getting a chance to fight for the world heavyweight boxing championship, and standing no chance, captivated my attention.
I also hate injustices. I hate seeing something terrible happen to a good person. Over the course of my career, I witness good people, with beautiful hearts, and good intentions find themselves in the most dangerous and unexpected situations. Either through the exercise of poor judgment, or bad influences, or whatever the case may be, good people do get into trouble. We're human. We make mistakes. Nobody's perfect. I read somewhere, he who is without sin throw the first stone. So, when I see an innocent person, with a clean record, involved in a scandalous criminal matter, I am compelled to run to their defense
I enjoy clearing things up. One of the significant responsibilities of every criminal defense attorney is to conduct their independent investigation of each matter. It is through this investigative phase that I discover inconsistencies, contradictions, a lack of evidence, and all of the details that make or break the state's case. This aspect of playing Sherlock homes and using my deductive reasoning to figure out what went wrong is a fascinating, thrilling, and unpredictable, utterly beautiful aspect of being a criminal defense attorney
I enjoy problem-solving. Each case is different from every other case. Each client I represent in a criminal matter has a unique situation. There are no two cases alike. Facts make cases. All it takes is one or two facts to change the outcome of the case. I thoroughly enjoy discovering the pieces of evidence which will serve to exonerate my clients and prove their innocence. Although it is not my job to prove my clients' innocence, it is the job of the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and I still enjoy unraveling the mysteries in each case.
Above all, I love being a trial attorney. I love going to court arguing motions and trying cases on behalf of the clients that I represent. I love organizing all of the evidence in each case. Classifying, structuring, and systematically filing evidence so that when I present it, it is all there at my fingertips. I thoroughly enjoy bringing cold hard facts to life through advocacy. There is nothing more exhilarating or exciting than advocating for the accused in a real live trial.
I was very grateful for this kid who called me late at night asking me to represent him. Every day I talk to potential clients, and we discussed their case. We go over the basics fundamental facts of the allegations. I answer all their questions and discuss their options. I inquired as to their prior criminal history if any. All my phone consultations consist of fact gathering question and answer dialogues. But this was different. This kids innocence and NAIVETE was authentic and felt like a gust of fresh air. The tone in his voice was genuine when he asked me "You love being a criminal defense attorney?"
It was the way he asked, in the tone with which he asked that provoked me to introspect and think about all the reasons why I love what I do. Unbeknownst to him, his question as to what motivated me to do what I do served to remind me how blessed I am to have chosen a profession which I love. I wake up every morning looking forward to the day ahead and the new challenges I will face. As a criminal defense attorney, no two days are alike, just like no two cases are alike.
Every day and every case are a different adventure.
I think my high school English teacher would give me a high mark on this essay! Hope you enjoyed it as well.
Mr. Peyrouton is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Hackensack, Bergen County, NJ.