Today I'm feeling annoyed at clients who just do everything humanly possible to make their cases worse.
You come to them with good advice on how to proceed with their case. Maybe it's a good plea offer, maybe it's a good suggestion on how to proceed on the next court date.
"No way, I'm not taking that. I've got rights. I'm going to trial. Make them prove it."
Now, generally, I love the "make them prove it" clients. I wish I had more of them. A lot of clients give up on good cases and take a plea just to get it over with. But this is not one of those situations.
"Well, if we were to go to trial, I don't think it'd go that well..."
"I've got rights. I'm going to trial. Make them prove it."
"Ok, ok, but you made a full confession to the police, right?"
"Yeah, but make them prove it. None of the police saw it." (As if every case, even paper cases, require an eyewitness.)
"And you gave them evidence. And you told them where to find other witnesses against you."
"But the D.A. didn't see me do anything. Make him prove it." (Oh, ok, now someone from the D.A.'s office has to witness every crime. I like that. Write that down.)
I try to talk my clients into what I think is the right thing to do. I explain the pros and cons, I talk them through what could happen if we go to trial, I explain what the plea would entail. All I can do is give information and guidance, right?
But, the thing is, I feel like I'm working against a negative perception of public defenders. I wish I could twist this client's arm into taking a plea - to the extent that I can twist a client's arm, but at the same time I feel like I'm walking some imaginary boundary that keeps me from being that public defender who just wants to "cop everyone out."
"You get paid whether I go to trial or not. So what do you care? I'm not copping out." This client told me today.
"I care because I don't like to see my clients go to jail. And that's what would happen after trial."
"Oh, now you're threatening me with jail if I don't cop out." As if the threat is coming from me. Yup, I just came up with that to force you take a plea.
I try to analogize my position to that of a doctor - you don't like the advice that I'm giving, but it's my advice of what is going to be best for you. But, the truth is, the doctor has the advantage of science and things that are a lot more predictable than D.A.'s offers and jury verdicts and sentencing decisions. A doctor can say "I know you don't want to get this surgery, but if you don't there's a 60 (or 70, or 80) percent chance that you'll die." The best I can say is "If you don't take this plea, the D.A. probably will never offer anything better, and the case most likely won't get dismissed on speedy trial grounds or after hearings, and you'll almost definitely lose after trial, and then the judge could give you 2-4 years in prison." It's easy to see why, with all of these words that sound so indefinite, a client might say "Let's go for it."
And, when a doctor says "If you don't get this surgery, you're likely to die," that death cannot possibly be construed as the doctor's fault. If you don't take the doctor's advice, you die, but not because the doctor did anything wrong (besides fail to convince you.) But when my client hears my pitch, he hears "If you don't take this plea, I'm probably not a good enough negotiator to get the D.A. to offer you something better. And I'm such a bad lawyer, I'll most likely lose the hearings, even though a 'real lawyer' would probably win. And, I'm so bad I'll almost definitely mess up your trial. And after I just fail to make any pitch whatsoever, the judge could punish you for having the bad job that I did giving you 2-4 years."
Of course the client never hears "If you don't take this plea, the crime you committed is so serious, that you'll probably never get a better offer from the D.A. And the evidence against you - the evidence you handed over to the police is so strong that you will almost definitely lose at trial. And the severity of the crime you committed, along with your mess of a criminal record means that the judge could give you 2-4 years." Nah, that would require taking some responsibility.
I wonder how many doctors stay up at night worrying about that patient that didn't schedule the follow up that was suggested. I guess one difference is that, for all the doctor knows, the patient could have gone to another doctor or walked into another hospital for treatment. I know this client is stuck with me until I go to the judge and request otherwise.
It's easy to feel like I just want to give up. Fine, jerk, we'll go to trial, you'll lose, you'll go to prison, and I'll go out and eat a big delicious dinner on the salary that I make whether I win or lose, and then go home to my big comfy bed. No big loss for me. I don't need to twist your arm.
But that's not the right thing to do either. I feel like there is no right thing. Ugh, I am so frustrated. At least it's Friday.
"For most people, Friday's just the day before the weekend. But after this Friday, the neighborhood'll never be the same."