Simply Bad Advice OR...Listen To Your Attorney!!!

"The longer he stays in jail and the more free legal advice he gets from his cell mates back there, the more delusional he becomes. He's convinced he can charm a jury, blame it all on a quick bout of insanity, and walk. I explain, again, that the trial will be hard to win because the jury will see the video at least five times.

He's also begun to doubt my belief in him, and on two occasions he's mentioned the involvement of another lawyer. This won't happen because he'll have to pay a fat fee to someone else, but it's still irritating. He's beginning to act like a lot of criminal defendants, especially those from the street. He doesn't trust the system, including me because I'm white and part of the power structure. He's convinced he's innocent and wrongly locked up. He knows he can sway a jury if given the chance. And I, as his lawyer, need only to work a few tricks in the courtroom and, just like on television, he'll be a free man. I don't argue with him but I do try and keep things realistic."

I read this excerpt recently in the book The Street Lawyer written by John Grisham. His work is comprised very similarly to what I do for a living - representing those accused of a crime. I took a picture once in the Dallas County Courthouse in a workroom where Assistant District Attorney's sit during the morning docket. I am not going to identify anyone by name, because it has since been taken down. But when I saw it, I immediately was drawn to it and took a couple of pictures on my phone.

The pictures are below. They are pictures of defendants...and yes, people, individuals, just like us. Perhaps they did something against the law and are being punished for it - but they are no different than anyone else. "He who without sin cast the first stone..." (John 8:1-11New International Version).

I digress. The pictures are of defendants of what the DA offered before some sort of a contested disposition (a Jury or Judge ("bench") Trial, or perhaps an "open" or a "slow" plea). I honestly don't know. What I do know is the pictures depicted what the DA's had offered before the hearing took place, and what either the Judge or Jury gave instead. And in most circumstances, not only was it worse, it was MUCH worse.

I like to think the best of people. I would like to think the ADA's who were brandishing the pictures and what they depict on their wall (while they negotiated with Defense Attorney's in the same room) were not doing so out of pride or arrogance. Or, perhaps - to intimidate them into doing what they wanted...because "hey, it could get much worse....just look at those poor suckers on the wall!"

I would like to think they had these people depicted to show the reality of our justice system. I took these pictures probably two years ago as of writing this. However, I have kept the pictures as a "favorite" on my phone to remind me, and sometimes my clients, of how unpredictable the justice system, and people in general (judges, juries, etc.) can be. Often when I feel they are making a very poor choice, I will show them the pictures I took. And I will tell them, from the bottom of my heart, that I don't want them to be someone they could put on their wall in the future (even if they don't do it publicly anymore, I mean I don't want them to suffer the same fate).

I don't know why these individuals chose a route that ended much worse for them and their lives. It does not give me a great amount of faith in our justice system. When you consider this - it seems more akin to going to Las Vegas to gamble with money, just as the situation is where people sometimes gamble with substantial portions of their future life and freedom.

I often think, however, that it could be the case where these individuals just got plain BAD ADVICE from their attorneys. I try to always give honest advice, and try my best to analyze the situation and counsel them as if they were a close friend or a relative. I try not to factor in money, because I feel it is unethical to do so. Basing decisions like this is not only terrible business, it is bad for the soul. I am a firm believer that if you do right by people, and treat them right - business will come and be more fruitful than if you let this be even the least bit of a driving force.

But what if these poor individuals, instead of receiving possible sound and sage advice from an experienced and wise attorney, instead got talked into "rolling the dice" thinking it would get much better. For as many pictures as there were - it was clear that it wasn't just one case where one person just had bad luck. In that respect, I can't help but think that bad lawyering had a very significant hand in the fate of these people. Very seldom do I encounter individuals where I am not able to establish mutual trust in our attorney-client relationship with, and usually, we work together to try and figure out the best possible solution given whatever facts and situation involved. Not often is it where someone just blatantly ignores what I think the best route to proceed would be. I don't know how other attorneys operate, perhaps it is not the same.

I have never been a position where something this egregious has occurred. In this respect, I have told some clients in the past when we are discussing options, I pull out the picture below and explain where I got it, and tell them from the bottom of my heart I do not want them to be another face on this wall.

The people on this wall - if they had received good counsel, would there then have been no need to have had pictures plastered up everywhere of what can happen when you decide to turn down a plea bargain offer from the DA's office? Personally, I think not. I think it was probably the case they received either bad, or lazy, advice (or both). If an attorney goes through all the options and scenarios, by analyzing the law and the facts and how they apply, and all other factors involved (a person's prior criminal history, the nature of the offense, the facts of the case and the likelihood of prevailing in a Jury Trial, etc.). If this would happen more often, I can't help but think there would not have been a reason for these specific ADA's to flaunt what happens when you don't take their "generous" offers.

The net of what is below is - I am of the opinion that the majority of these individuals received simply just BAD ADVICE (and I just had time to take a couple of pictures, there was an overwhelming number of pictures on the wall depicting the same). Perhaps not all of them, but I would venture to guess the majority. I have been practicing criminal defense for almost 10 years at the time of writing this.

To date, I have never had a client where they have suffered a fate even close to anyone depicted on this wall. It may happen in the future - it is hard to predict what will happen in any given case. But usually, if you try to be fair with those you represent, and give honest advice that you can effectively communicate that you truly do care, it is hard for me to believe that an attorney would find themselves in too many situations that warranted pictures on the wall of this nature. In some cases, as in the narrative in the John Grisham book, some Defendants we represent can be stubborn and hard-headed. I put this first in the article to exemplify how even a very good attorney, as was the one in the book, can be faced with this frustrating situation. That being said - I doubt he faced it very often.

I honestly think I will have this picture with me the rest of my career practicing law. Every time I feel a person is about to make a bad decision, often I will pull out this picture, and ask for them to think through all the options before making a rash decision...because I don't want to have to leave a courtroom...EVER...wondering if one of the individuals I represented ended in a disposition that could be on this wall (whether it is physically still up, perhaps closed doors or not) - but even in the figurative sense, I never want to be haunted by wondering if my bad advise cause someone to lose so much freedom in the only life they have to live.

If you are an attorney and reading this, I think you will identify with the pictures below. For me, they are a stark reality. I keep them on my phone as a favorite as a sobering reminder of what could happen any moment I let my guard down, think more of making more money than I do in representing my clients, or operate my law practice in a lazy and/or in a careless fashion. If you are reading this and you practice law (especially criminal defense) - it is my hope that this article may also have caused you to reflect, where you also now will do everything possible to make sure you do not have a client whose face could be on this wall.