Police and Prosecutors Look at Cases, Not People.
A person facing charges is instantly labeled “The Defendant” by the justice system: the judge, the prosecutor, the police. On any given day at your local courthouse, everyone facing charges answers to the same name: “The Defendant.”
A person facing charges isn’t just “The Defendant.” They’re still people. Charges arise in the context of people’s lives: their work, their friendships, and their families. We do our best to remember that.
Even a “Good” Prosecutor Doesn’t Think Much About the Person Facing Charges.
When I was a prosecutor, I rarely thought much about the defendants. The cases seemed to come and go, and I was much more fascinated with ongoing relationships between the attorneys and the judge. For example, shortly after graduating law school, I was responsible for arguing almost all the arraignments at Brockton District Court. It was, and still is, a busy courthouse. Most criminal cases that come from Abington, Bridgewater, Brockton, East Bridgewater, and Whitman are filed there. Every morning around 8:15, I’d get a stack of fifteen or twenty police reports from the last night’s arrests. Then, I’d hustle up to the courtroom, where I’d find a pile of criminal records. I’d have to read all the police reports and criminal records before the judge got on the bench at 9.
Judge Ronald Moynihan had been sitting in the arraignment session for as long as anyone could remember. He’d had a long and successful career, and had handled thousands of serious cases, including a lot of murder cases. He could be a bit gruff, and he certainly wasn’t afraid to raise his voice when an attorney showed up unprepared. He expected me to know what I was talking about – but that only meant I had to know what was in the police report and on the criminal record. That was hard enough. Plenty of prosecutors had been transferred out of his session over the years. They simply couldn’t keep up, or when they asked the judge to do something, they couldn’t explain what they were thinking.
Plenty of people at the DA’s office were terrified of Judge Moynihan. I loved the guy, and I appreciated that he was trying to teach me about how to practice law: A lawyer should be prepared for court. Always.
I only had a couple of minutes to review each police report and criminal record, but after a while, it got pretty easy. I stopped looking at the defendant’s name, where he was from, or what he did for a living. As soon as I knew the charges, the basic facts of the case, the number of times the defendant had missed court dates, and whether he’d been recently convicted of similar offenses, I was ready to make recommendations to the judge about bail. Bail is money a defendant needs to give the court to make sure they return for future hearings. When a case is over, the bail money is returned to whoever delivered it.
I also would make recommendations to the judge about “conditions of release.” These are conditions that a judge might impose on a defendant before allowing them to leave the courthouse. For example, if it was a drunk driving/OUI case, the judge might order the defendant to surrender his license to drive. If the case involved domestic violence, the judge might order the defendant to not have any contact with their spouse. I’d make these decisions in an instant – based solely on the nature of the charge. Almost always, the judge would impose them.
After a few weeks of reviewing 20 or 30 new cases a day, and making dozens of bail arguments, I felt like I had a pretty clear understanding of the judge’s expectations, and the session seemed to be moving smoothly. I was proud that I’d learned to keep up. Every now and then, I’d get my name in the newspaper, and that seemed exciting.
After the bail arguments were over, I’d close the file and hand it to an administrator. For the most part, I’d never think about it again. I’d focus my attention on the next case.
Eventually, I was able to stop worrying so much about what I was going to say to the judge, and I was able to start paying attention to what the defense attorneys were saying. It took a while, but eventually, it occurred to me that there was more to a case than a police report and a criminal history. It occurred to me that I didn’t know much at all about the people I was prosecuting. Frankly, it blew my mind that I was allowed to make decisions that would have enormous effects on people’s lives when I barely knew their names. And, as the prosecutor, I was speaking on behalf of the government. I didn’t know anything about the defendants, and everyone seemed to think that was just fine. That realization is probably what set me on the path to being a defense attorney.
A Person’s Life Goes on Outside the Courthouse.
After the arraignment, for defendants, the case isn’t over. Many of them walk out of the courtroom, and they’re suddenly unable to go home or unable to drive. They need to get to work – bills still need to get paid. They need a place to sleep. They need to eat. Usually, they need money to hire a lawyer. And they have no idea how long this is going to last. A criminal case can last years, and conditions of release can remain in place the whole time.
So, if a defendant is lucky, he can call his mom or dad. And sometimes, a mom or dad calls me.
Since becoming a defense attorney, my approach to cases has changed dramatically. Now, I get to help individual clients with their very worst problems. I’ve had a few great jobs – like leading combat soldiers in Iraq – but helping people’s sons and daughters get the best version of justice available has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
What One Client’s Mother Had to Say:
I recently got this review from a client’s mother. I haven’t changed a word. She asked to remain anonymous, because the case is very serious. I don’t blame her. Her son’s criminal charges have
sent a ripple through their family that will probably last forever. If you’re a parent looking for an attorney for your child, I hope you find her words helpful:
When I found myself in the most distressing situation with my young adult son, living across the country and experiencing some serious legal problems, I didn’t have any idea how to find a good attorney and so I left it to him. He had been impressed with the way Chris operated in court when he was representing another defendant in court at the same time. So he hired Chris.
I got to know Chris over numerous phone calls, as this very concerned mom was trying to get her son the help he needed from a great distance. It was a very stressful time, but with Chris’s assurances and professional wisdom, my worries decreased as I knew my son was in capable, compassionate hands. This might all be something you could find in a dozen attorneys but what Chris did for my son after he was arrested, spent a week in jail, and was losing hope, went way beyond what I believe most other attorneys would do. What he did for me and my son has caused me to respect and appreciate him as, not just an attorney, but as a truly decent human.
After my son was arrested, and bail was set, we had some huge logistical hurdles that could not have been managed without me flying across the country to physically be there to navigate in person. This is where Chris stepped in like no attorney I’ve ever heard of before. It took a lot of time and attention to help me get my child out of jail and start on the process of getting him home. This is what Chris did for me and my son: He arranged for a third party to bail him out. He received the wire, got it to the third party and was there when, on a Friday night, my son was released. He drove my son to his home two hours away, and when the landlord locked him out, (he didn’t have his keys, wallet or phone) Chris drove him to no less than three hotels, after BUYING HIM DINNER, and settled him into the one with a room available. Since my son didn’t have his wallet, Chris paid for the room and I sent him the reimbursement.
Chris did not get home and into his own bed until 3AM.
This whole ordeal was incredibly difficult for me, as I was getting phone updates, and things weren’t going super well. But Chris treated my son with so much kindness and compassion, it relieved me of so much fear I had, my son thousands of miles away, without his car, phone, wallet or any friends or family to look to for help. The most important thing in hiring an attorney is competency. Chris has performed very well in court for my son. I couldn’t be happier with his attorney skills, and appreciate how available and responsive he is by phone, but the most unexpected blessing has been his genuine care and concern for my child and the way he stepped in when this mom couldn’t be there for her son.