HOW DO LAWYERS DEFEND CRIMINALS?
I ATTENDED A SOCIAL GATHERING A FEW YEARS WHEN ANOTHER GUEST APPROACHED ME AND INTRODUCED HERSELF. AFTER WE EXCHANGED PLEASANTRIES SHE ASKED ME WHAT LINE OF WORK I WAS IN. I PROUDLY STATED THAT I WAS A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY.
SHE ROLLED HER EYES AND SCOFFED, “WHAT TYPE OF PERSON MAKES A LIVING FROM HELPING CRIMINALS GET AWAY WITH THEIR CRIMES?” I RESPONDED, “IT TAKES A VERY SPECIAL TYPE OF PERSON TO DEFEND THE ACCUSED.” THE CONVERSATION WAS SHORT-LIVED AND FIZZLED AT THAT POINT. WE PARTED WAYS AND I NEVER EXPECTED TO SEE OR HEAR FROM HER AGAIN.
ONE MONDAY MORNING I RECEIVE AN EMERGENCY CALL FROM MY SECRETARY ASKING ME TO CONTACT THE EXACT SAME WOMAN I HAD MET YEARS EARLIER AT THAT SOCIAL EVENT.
I CALLED HER, AND THE CONVERSATION WENT SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
“Good morning, this is Alan. May I speak Ms. XYZ?”
“Oh, yes, thank you so much for calling me right away. We met a few years and ago and I remembered you this weekend when my son was arrested. We have a family emergency.”
“Can you meet me at my office to discuss the situation?”
“Yes, thank you. We are on our way.”
It turns out that her son was arrested for being in possession of a duffle bag full of weed. He was carrying Third Degree weight. He was in his car, on a residential cul-de-sac with his car idling, while he waited for his girlfriend. A neighbor noticed a suspicious vehicle and called 911. Upon arrival, the police established probable cause, searched the vehicle and discovered the Marijuana or Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) he had in the back seat.
Her son, Young XYZ Jr., confessed to me that he was making a lot of money dealing ganja at his private college. I agreed to represent him and entered my appearance as his attorney with the prosecutor’s office. I requested all of the Discovery (evidence) in his case and proceeded to study it thoroughly.
I discovered that the police followed all proper procedures and did not violate any of my client’s rights. During questioning, my client waived his Miranda rights and confessed that the CDS in his vehicle did indeed belong to him. The more I studied and analyzed his case, the weaker it became to defend. We even waited on the New Jersey State Police Laboratory to examine the evidence and certify that it was THC (marijuana). It was 100% marijuana! No surprise here.
I also performed a background check and my client had an immaculate record. He did not have a single blemish on his record and happened to be a top student in both high school and college. I started thinking about alternative options to trial and scheduled another meeting with the entire XYZ family. I patiently and meticulously described the entire criminal procedure process and showed them all of the documents provided to me during Discovery.
We discussed the strong unlikelihood of being acquitted at trial (winning) and the strong likelihood of being found guilty and serving a prison sentence. In sum, a trial was not an option. So, the next step in the case involved the possibility of applying to and being accepted into a Diversionary Program. New Jersey offers a one-time get out of jail free card in lieu of prison.
There are different types of Diversionary programs in New Jersey and they are discussed elsewhere on this site. Many factors are taken into consideration when applying a client defendant into Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) and prior criminal case history is one of them. My client was an excellent candidate for a “Second Chance.”
Long story short, we successfully admitted Junior into PTI and after being on probation for two years, his case was dismissed. The fear of losing five years of his life to state prison changed this young man permanently. He kept in touch with me over the years and turned his life around completely. He took advantage of his second chance life afforded him and made the best of it. Currently, he helps at risk youth in a variety of ways and is earning his certification in alcohol and drug abuse counseling.
An added bonus to this story is that his mother, Ms. XYZ, wrote me a beautiful (hand-written (old school)) letter apologizing for her unfair judgment of me and the career I chose.
“If it wasn’t for you and your passionate defense of my son, he never would’ve received a second chance. I now understand why we need criminal defense attorneys. We’re human and my son made a mistake and you were there to get us through it. God bless you and please accept my apologies for how I may have made you feel years ago. I now see that it does take a special person to do what you do.”
Now back to the original question regarding how defense attorneys can defend someone guilty of a crime?
As a defense attorney, my role varies depending on each case. On some occasions, like the example outlined above, my role is not to help the criminal go free. My role is to examine the evidence, discuss the strengths and weaknesses, assist clients in navigating through the system and doing everything in my power to obtain the best possible result for each client. In this case, Junior was caught red-handed with a bag full of CDS and his case was a dog. However, he had a clean record and was an ideal candidate for a program the legislature approved to give first time defendants a second chance.
Do you see how I helped a guilty man have a second chance?
Mr. Peyrouton is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Hackensack, Bergen County, NJ.