People have perceptions of criminal defense mostly through TV, film, and literature. There’s the honorable Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, who fights for a just cause even though his client is found guilty. John Grisham’s novels give readers the idea that lawyers often learn through experience that the system is rigged, and that it’s only the rare lawyer who is ready to challenge the system – even if it means getting shot at and having your reputation attacked – so that you can have a chance against those in power.
TV shows like LA Law, Ally McBeal, and The Good Wife make it seem like every court case is filled with suspense and that just one witness, one argument, or one investigator can change the outcome – unless that other side has their own witness, argument, or investigator.
Because most people will only know what criminal defense is based on entertainment, defense lawyers often get a bad rap. Once of the questions I get the most when I meet new people is, “How can you defend the guilty like that?”
It’s an understandable question, I guess, but it’s not the right question.
The realities of criminal practice
The reality of a criminal law practice is much different. Most cases are won through hard work, an understanding of the law and the justice system, and an almost molecular level of attention to detail.
Criminal defense lawyers understand that in many cases their clients have committed some offense. The cases where they have an air-tight alibi do happen – but they’re rare. Most of the time, we’re aiming to:
- Make sure the police and prosecution respect the legal process and the U.S. Constitution. There’s an old saying that it’s better for a thousand guilty people to go free that for one innocent person to be convicted. Requiring that the prosecution respects your Fourth amendment right to legal searches and seizures, your Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination, your Sixth Amendment right to question the witness against you (and many other rights) is an insurance policy against putting innocent people behind bars.
Defense lawyers work to ensure police have reasonable grounds to stop you, that the evidence that is used against you is trustworthy, and that you should be acquitted if there is a reasonable doubt. That’s what the law says, and that’s what our job is.
- Make certain the charges are relevant. Many times, the DA’s office will charge a defendant with multiple crimes. They often threaten to charge you with additional crimes, too, in the hope you will plead guilty to lesser charges. But it’s unfair: prosecution can’t use false charges to pressure you into a plea bargain that doesn’t fit the facts of the offense, and police shouldn’t add a bunch of aggravating factors when they don’t really apply. What ends up happening in cases where an outright acquittal isn’t possible, is that your lawyer manages to get the 863 extra charges dropped, and the client ends up being charged with the one thing he or she actually did wrong. It’s a whole song and dance, really, and we need to know the tune and the steps.
- Work to find appropriate remedies. In many cases, such as nonviolent offenses, there should be alternatives besides jail. That can include drug and alcohol treatment, diversion programs, or even “time served” so you don’t actually spend time incarcerated, but you still have to check in and keep your nose clean. Lots of times, we work to find these alternative methods, to keep you out of jail.
At the core, the criminal justice system is about what the boundaries of acceptable behavior and non-acceptable behavior should be. Defense lawyers work to make sure those boundaries are just and fair as opposed to mean and arbitrary.
At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, we have dedicated our careers to fighting for the accused. We understand that there are often reasons why defendants cross boundary lines – we just don’t think your whole life should be ruined because you made a mistake. And while our team likes to think Drew would make a great character in a book, movie, or TV show, anyone in Annapolis, Centreville or Ellicott City should understand that our entire team puts the work in. For strong guidance during these difficult times, call Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law at 410.777.8103, or complete our contact form – to schedule an appointment.
And remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew