Criminal defense attorneys support crime!

There’s a new meme out there against Hillary Clinton which is full of lies, false quotes, and misleading information but that’s nothing new. (You can read about it on Snopes if you wish). The part that bothers me is this:

It criticizes her for representing a criminal when she was a young defense attorney and calls her an “advocate for rapists.”justice

This is the kind of attack we’ve seen before, usually from conservatives. It’s sad that I am seeing my liberal friends post this crap.

Conservatives who say things like that are hypocrites who say they love America while hating one of the very reasons the Founding Fathers fought the revolution: To rebel against a government that ignored basic rights. They put those rights in the first Ten Amendments: The right to counsel, the right to remain silent, the right to not be searched without a warrant and probable cause, the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment — more than half of the Bill of Rights are about criminal rights.

And what’s to prevent the government from abusing these rights? Why, it’s defense attorneys.

But when we hold police responsible for illegal searches or argue that our clients’ rights are being abused, what do people say? “Oh, he got off on a technicality.” Yes, a technicality called the United States Constitution — the very foundation of our nation.

This is like the people who demand that freedom of speech be denied to speech they disagree with while defending that same right for themselves. Our freedoms are meaningless if they don’t apply to everyone, even people we hate.

Look, most of the people I represent are guilty of something. 95% of all cases end up with a plea. My job is to make sure that the innocent are defended and the guilty don’t have their rights denied or otherwise get screwed by the system.

This is patriotic. This is exactly what the Founding Fathers intended. This is what makes America great — that we, the people, can stand up to a powerful government that does wrong and can win without resorting to violence.

To imply that a defense attorney performing his or her job “supports crime” is an insult not just to attorneys, but to all Americans.



Lowering Blood Alcohol Levels to .05%?

There is a movement now to lower the level by which you can be convicted of drunk driving from .08% to .05%.

As a criminal defense attorney who handles a lot of DUI cases, I certainly have opinions on this.

The problem is that my opinion has a lot of “ifs.”gavel

First, let me explain the law. In Pennsylvania (where I practice), you can be driving perfectly fine, no problems whatsoever, but if you have more than .08% in your system, you can be found guilty of drunk driving. It’s a “per se” law which means that simply by having that much in your system you are guilty even if it did not affect your driving. I assume every other state is the same.

Obviously, alcohol affects everyone differently. One person can be drunk from two beers while another needs six, based on the size of the person and other factors.

So that law kind of bugs me, because you’re guilty even if the point of the law (to prevent drunk drivers) is not technically served.

On the other hand, people should not be driving after they’ve had a drink. Come on, why try to guess if you’ve had enough? Just don’t drink if you know you’ll be driving. (I’ve never been much of a drinker, but I’ve seen so many lives ruined from drunk driving that I don’t even have a sip if I know I am driving.)

So when I see studies showing that lowering the amount to .05% (which is the limit in a hundred other countries) results in less accidents, it’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t lower it.

The problem is this: In America, thanks to MADD and groups like that, the penalties for drunk driving are ridiculously harsh. Most states have a mandatory jail sentence for a first offense. (There’s not even a mandatory jail sentence for aggravated assault.) For a third offense in Pennsylvania, you could do a mandatory year in jail, even if your driving was perfectly fine, just because your BAC level was too high. A year! When I say people’s lives have been ruined because of drunk driving, I’m not just talking about the victims of accidents; most of the time, there is no accident.

I’d be willing to bet that in those countries that have reduced the rate to .05%, the penalties are nowhere near what we have. Penalties such as points on your license, a loss of license, and the requirement that you take alcohol classes (which we have now) may be sufficient to punish people without throwing them in jail, too.

So I may surprise people when I say that I am not necessarily against lowering the rate (and no, I’m not saying this so I can get more clients), but I would only support it if we got rid of mandatory prison sentences. (This is, in some way, a separate issue worthy of another blog post — one of the reasons the US has more prisoners than any other country is because instead of treating addicts, we imprison them.)

Plea Bargaining and Justice

Not too long ago I found myself facing two jury trials, one after the other, both with the same DA. We spoke about them and agreed that I’d probably win the first one and he would probably win the second one.

The exact opposite happened.justice

And that’s why most cases never go to trial … because everything is a gamble. Both sides would rather have something definite than gamble.

Some people who have no experience with the legal system have a strange idea that plea bargaining does not promote justice, when in fact it works just fine. The District Attorney asks for something way over here, I counter with something way over there, and when we meet in the middle — well, that’s probably where justice is.

Sometimes you have to go to trial. I refuse to take plea deals when they are no better than what I would get if my client would be found guilty. (This is especially true in very serious cases like murder or rape.) And sometimes my client insists on a trial, and the client’s wishes always prevail.

I advise all my clients though that every trial is a gamble. I’ve won cases I was sure I’d lose and lost cases I was sure I’d win, and every lawyer will tell you the same thing. They’ve even done social experiments where two separate juries have watched the exact same trial and have produced completely different verdicts.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s still the best system in the world. But no one should ever think that justice is perfect, that the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose, and that juries are never wrong.

(That’s one of the main reasons I am against the death penalty — I don’t believe there should be a penalty that is 100% irreversible when we don’t have a system that is 100% perfect.)

I went to court this morning ready for trial but my client decided at the very last minute to take the plea I had worked out for him months ago. He finally decided he wasn’t ready to gamble.

How do I feel about that, you ask? Well, personally, I like doing trials, and I like winning. I don’t mind the gamble.

But I’m not the guy going to jail if I lose. And that’s why it is ultimately up to my client to decide.