I have always believed that the criminal justice system is based on a pursuit of the truth. The facts, circumstances, background and evidence are unique to each client’s case that a criminal defense lawyer is engaged to represent. For example, I have represented many clients who have sought my advice for sexual assault charges.
My own strategy for this difficult and emotional engagement has evolved since I was a young practitioner. I was taught in law school, and from many other good trial lawyers, to be a zealous advocate for my client. Does zealous representation mean that you ignore the reality of all affected by sexual assault? What is the best way to best represent your client?
There are two primary theories that have been passed on to criminal defense lawyers. In my youth, a former La Plata County District judge, who had been a Colorado public defender for many years, told me that when he first met with a client for criminal representation he did not want to know the facts until he had first explained the law applicable to the criminal charge. After this discussion, he then sought the client’s version of the facts involved in the crime.
My father, a career criminal defense attorney, rejected this theory outright and instead demanded the truthful facts at a client’s initial meeting before he explained any applicable law. He also wanted to understand the underlying motivations for the criminal behavior. If the client was not truthful with my father in his initial explanation of the facts, my dad sent the client out the door and would choose to not represent that client.
I have followed in my father’s footsteps, and believe that in seeking the truthful facts at the outset, a much better outcome for the client will occur.
When ordinary people come into my law office with a criminal charge, they are stressed and very confused. They are mostly unfamiliar with the criminal process, with lawyering, and they are very afraid that their life will be ruined forever. Life, as you know, is a journey, and a criminal charge, whatever it may be, is an opportunity to examine one’s character and values.
If you are to move the client forward into a more enlightened and healthy life, having them recognize their accountability and the impact of their actions on their family, friends and community is required. Good lawyering takes into account all of these factors, and others, in order to provide the best defense and outcome for a client.
If honesty and full disclosure are not paramount in the relationship that a lawyer has with a client, then bad consequences are sure to follow. It may seem a better choice not to take the high road, but in doing so, the mold has been cast and the lawyer has actually helped the client demean the criminal justice process and tarnished his client’s character and reality. This is an abuse of the criminal justice process and now the client, his family, friends, and community, will suffer the consequences of that choice.
The criminal justice system does not work perfectly. Each of us is to be judged by a jury of our peers should we take our criminal case to a jury trial. However, I sincerely believe that once you have honestly evaluated a criminal case, the justice system will give the client an opportunity to be appropriately punished, and assist them with appropriate treatment, so that his or her life is not ruined.
If, as a result of criminal charges, the client undertakes sincere change with an understanding of actual motivations and behavior, he or she will become a much better person – one that can contribute to our community. We all deserve second chances and have made our own mistakes; we must endeavor to help all in need.
Your neighbor and your fellow Durangoans do not need your judgment, rather your understanding and support of the good in all of us. The court, judges, district attorneys, law enforcement and defense attorneys must also give their very best efforts at helping defendants make positive changes.
Give those who have made poor choices the chance to redeem themselves and you will become an advocate for a better Durango.
Bobby Duthie is a local attorney and partner in Duthie Savastano Brungard, PLLC, and has been a civil and criminal trial lawyer since 1982. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 247-4545.