Everything I Need to Know...

You ever heard of that book, "Everything I Need To Know In Life I Learned in Kindergarten?" I keep thinking that some day I'm going to write my own version, "Everything I Need to Know to Not Get Arrested I Learned in Elementary School."

Recently I was on trial with a client charged with larceny. (That's theft, or stealing, for those non-lawyers among us.) It must have been about the fourth day of trial. We had gotten through the entire morning session, and were just about to take a break for lunch. My client leans over to me, and says, "Oh, this morning, I found this..." and pulls a wallet out of his jacket pocket. I wait a minute, expecting him to open his wallet and show me what he found. Finally, he says, "This wallet. I found it in the hallway this morning just before court."

I freaked out. "You mean to tell me, you're on trial for larceny, and you're walking around the courthouse with someone else's wallet in your pocket? Are you crazy?"

He said, "Uh, I didn't know what else to do with it."

I said, "Well, how about just leave it there? You didn't have to touch it. Didn't your mother ever tell you, 'Don't touch things that don't belong to you?'"

And then it dawned on me. His mother probably didn't. Or he didn't listen. Otherwise, he wouldn't be my client.

"Listen," I said as calmly as possible, "here are some words of wisdom for the future that will probably help you in a lot of tough jams: Don't touch things that don't belong to you. Got it?"

And, he said, "Yeah. Yeah. I guess you're right." And it was like I could see the wheels in his head turning. I could see that moment of recognition on his face. It was like I could read his mind. "If I don't touch things that don't belong to me... I wouldn't have been busted with a car full of stolen property... hmmm... maybe she's right."

I was in court with another client, and we were sitting at the defense table, and I grabbed a few files out of my bag, and put them down on the table in front of me. They were files for other clients, I thought I might get a few minutes to look through them while we waited for the judge. My client reached across and grabbed the files. I politely said something which meant, "Excuse you, those aren't for you." "Oh, uh, oh." In this instance, this could be either a client who is ignorant of the "don't touch things that don't belong to you" rule, or a client who honestly just believes everything in the world is for him, and about him, and belongs to him.

But still, I wonder how many of my clients just never got those basic elementary school lessons. Either because they absentee parents (my public defender clients) or because they had mothers that thought rules wouldn't apply to their little angels (my current clients.) "Keep your hands to yourself," would probably help half of my clients.

Another big percentage could have really used a lesson in, "Don't put that in your mouth/nose/vein, you don't know where it's been."

And I can't count the number of times, I've listened to my client's story and thought, "Well, if he told you to jump off a bridge, would you have done that too?"

Yes, I can see a bestseller in my future.

6 comments:

  1. Is jumping off bridges a crime?

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  2. 'And it was like I could see the wheels in his head turning. I could see that moment of recognition on his face. It was like I could read his mind. "If I don't touch things that don't belong to me... I wouldn't have been busted with a car full of stolen property... hmmm... maybe she's right."'

    Thanks, that just brightened my nasty gloomy Monday morning, because it is soooooo true, and sooooo many people JUST DON'T FREAKING GET IT!!!

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  3. That is possibly one of the funniest lawyer stories I've ever heard -- in that "it's so sad it's funny" kind of way. I so admire your patience!

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  4. I know exactly what you mean. I just had to explain to my nephew that what his probation officer tells him are suggestions. Of course, if he could follow rules (like pay for things before you take them out of the store) he wouldn't be on probation in the first place. If you have any suggestions for making it stick, I'd love to hear them.

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  5. Don't put it in your mouth/nose/vein...that made me laugh pretty hard.

    Yeah, many say that all crime and other societal ills are a consequence of the breakdown of the family. I heartily agree. I wonder how different a person I would be today if I hadn't grown up with both parents teaching me right from wrong and overall just taking an active part in my upbringing.

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  6. My ex-mother-in-law took my granddaughter into the neighbor's yard to pick flowers. My daughter and son-in-law were upset and great-granny told them it is just flowers. Her son has been a lifelong thief~gets away with most of the crime and in my eyes she is teaching the girl that "thou can steal and trespass in thy neighbor's yard".

    It seems quite a few people do not mind liars and thieves. When our youth see it in the highest level of government, and adults actually vote for it in their choices, it seems an impossible dream that any will learn "thou shalt not touch thy neighbor's things". As one petty thief told me: It is not a crime unless you get caught.

    If you lie under oath to the Supreme Court while serving as President of the country, you still can grow up to be First Man in the White House, seems to be today's integrity lesson to our young.

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