The media hasn’t done criminal lawyers any favours. Almost everyone can remember seeing the sleazy defence lawyer on tv weaseling his way toward reasonable doubt while his child- rapist client sits grinning in the dock. Small wonder that criminal lawyers have a reputation slightly inferior to, say, granny molesters.
So, in defence of my brethren, these are 5 popular myths about hiring a defence lawyer debunked:
#5 Lawyers Are Expensive
Yes and no. Lawyers don’t come cheap, that’s for sure, and a lawyer’s fees can be scary when he starts talking hourly time costs. But look at it in terms of value and things look slightly different. Hiring a lawyer to defend you is like hiring a doctor to perform an operation. Both cost about the same, and both are potentially life-changing (or life- ending) experiences.
#4 I Can Represent Myself. Wikipedia Is My Friend
You know the old saying that a person who represents himself has a fool for a client? The truth is, no amount of research will make up for the experience of a professional who does this kind of stuff for a living. A lawyer’s arsenal doesn’t just comprise legal knowledge. There are intangibles like knowing a judge’s trial demeanour, or having a good working relationship with a prosecutor, which will make things much smoother. Again, you wouldn’t operate on a family member with a copy of Gray’s Anatomy open beside you, so why go it alone?
#3 Only Guilty People Need Lawyers
Everyone needs a cool head on their side. Being charged with an offence is traumatic enough without having to navigate the endless maze of pre- trial and trial procedure. You will want to know your prospects of success, how long the matter is going to take, and sometimes just how to find bloody courtroom 9 and 3/4s. You wouldn’t ditch your doctor in favour of prayer, so why go up against the entire might and the resources of the State alone? You need someone to help tell your side of the story, especially if the story’s good.
#2 If I Hire A Lawyer, It Pisses Off The Judge
This myth presumes that all judges want to do is to put accused persons away fast and free from all troublesome considerations of fairness and justice. In reality, judges often agonise long and hard about coming to the right decision, and often look to lawyers to distill and present the important information so that they can decide fairly. Having an unrepresented person blabber away for half an hour about how sorry he is does not help the court at all.
FYI, NOBODY comes to court and says they are not sorry and would do it again if given half a chance. People often overestimate the effect of showing remorse.
And the clincher:
#1 I Don’t Need A Lawyer, I’m Just Going To Plead Guilty And Get On With It
Nobody makes movies or tv shows about people pleading guilty. Imagine Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men saying at the start “yes I ordered the Code Red, oops”. What to do with all this extra popcorn?
Small wonder, then, that most people assume you only engage counsel for trial. In fact, the vast majority of criminal work involves PGs, or cases in which people plead guilty. Now, this doesn’t mean they are ACTUALLY guilty, although often times they are. People plead guilty for a number of reasons. Some might feel that they would rather spare themselves the cost and publicity associated with a trial. Others aren’t risk takers and will settle for the certainty of a lighter sentence rather than chance it in court.
There’s a lot of work that goes into a PG. Oftentimes, the lawyers will first meet with the client to work out the client’s options. Once that is done, the lawyers will have a series of discussions with the prosecution to see if a deal can be worked out. Often, the number of charges is reduced, or the charges themselves reduced to lesser offences.
Finally, in a process called mitigation, the criminal advocate will highlight all the factors that work in your favour to lessen the severity of the applicable sentence. It doesn’t mean that you don’t get punished, but it goes a long way to making sure you get an outcome that fits the crime and nothing more.
That’s my list for now. Typing this has given me a great idea for another article. Come back soon and I’ll share what clients go through when they are making a decision about whether to plead guilty or claim trial.
Till then, be good, and if you’re not, don’t get caught.